FCC repeals U.S. net-neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission has voted to repeal net neutrality rules that prevented the blocking or slowing of U.S. internet traffic.

With Republicans holding a 3-2 majority on the FCC board, the decision was expected and went along party lines.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has long been a critic of the strong net neutrality rules which were implemented under the Obama administration. The rules classified the internet as a Title II “public utility.” Today’s decision repeals Title II, and reclassifies the internet as a Title I “informational service” — a status that comes with far less government regulation.

This change will specifically loosen regulations on Internet Service Providers (ISPs) — such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast — giving them the option to slow down web traffic.

Net neutrality campaigners fear companies may be pressured into paying ISPs in order to keep good access to their product. Alternatively, this cost could be inflicted on the consumer, according to net neutrality advocates.

FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two Democrats on the board, said the decision, “puts the Federal Communications Commission on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the American public. CNet.com posted her full dissenting opinion.

Jessica Rosenworcel on Twitter

Today the @FCC eliminated its #NetNeutrality rules. That’s bad. But here’s what’s good: This misguided decision awoke a sleeping giant–the American people. And we’re going to keep fighting. In court. In Congress. And we won’t stop until internet openness is the law of the land.

(Read More on how consumers could be affected by this decision).

Those who support repealing Title II — largely the internet providers — argue the previous regulation reduced their ability to invest and innovate. Verizon has promised to uphold principles of the “open internet,” but the FCC’s decision means that “if internet providers want to throttle traffic, there is nothing stopping them,” according to BBC North America technology reporter 

The FCC chairman and former lawyer for Verizon, Ajit Pai, previously said concern over U.S. net neutrality rules repeal was “hysteria.”

“For decades before 2015, we had a free and open Internet. Indeed, the free and open Internet developed and flourished under light-touch regulation” he said in an official statement earlier, this year.

In a very similar statement to Pai’s, Verizon said, “For decades, the internet flourished under a bipartisan regulatory approach that allowed it to operate, grow and succeed free of unnecessary government controls.”

On the other side of the argument, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the World Wide Web and keen net neutrality advocate, said in a statement released to WikiTribune:

“This is a dark day for the internet. By rolling back net neutrality rules, the FCC has cleared the path towards a dramatic overturn of how the internet works in the U.S. Rather than preserving the internet as a free market for ideas, the FCC has given a handful of companies the power to decide what lives and dies online – ignoring the millions of Americans who called for the protection of net neutrality. Now is not the time to accept defeat. We must explore all judicial and political options in order to save the free and open internet.”

While net neutrality rules don’t exist in much of the world, generally the rest has far more choice of services than in the U.S.

Out of 118 million U.S. households, more than 50 million live in area with just one service provider offering speeds of at least 25Mbps, according to Arstechnica.

Former FCC Chairman Tim Wheeler, who implemented Title II under Obama, said that there’s “a monopoly provider for three-quarters of the homes in America, and no choice,” during a town hall with U.S. Representative Don Beyer in June.

The UK has net neutrality rules enshrined under EU law, according to Channel 4 Fact Check. However, this could change once it leaves the EU, in March 2019.

President and CEO of the World Wide Web Foundation, Adrian Lovett, told WikiTribune:

“Today’s FCC decision hurts not only Americans but internet users around the world. Many of the biggest global tech companies are U.S.-based and help to set internet policy for the world. In spite of the FCC’s vote, tech companies and other governments must uphold net neutrality principles as the bedrock of an open web. The EU and countries that have committed to net neutrality, including Canada and India, must speak up to keep the internet free and open and carry the torch that this US Administration has dropped.”

Possible to reverse the decision?

The FCC rule change could be overridden by the U.S. Congress, by way of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), according to Motherboard.  CRA is a seldom used procedure that gives federal lawmakers a 60-day window to prevent policies made by federal agency, this includes the FCC, from coming into effect. This means that congress has until February 12, 2018 (60 days from the FCC rule change) to act.

Boston.com reported that Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat, has already filed a CRA to stop the FCC’s decision. CRA only requires a simple majority in the Senate and the House of Representatives to pass.

“If a rule is disapproved after going into effect, it is “treated as though [it] had never taken effect,” according to the law.

Disapproval resolutions, however, can still be vetoed by President Trump. A presidential veto can only be overridden with a two-thirds majority in congress.

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