Will US net neutrality repeal be felt around the world?

  1. The EU's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect on May 25

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality regulations came into effect on June 12. The repeal has broad implications for internet users’ options in terms of providers, and knock-on effects for the power this gives providers to leverage data gathered from customers.

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Though the FCC’s decision is limited to U.S. regulations, recent EU data regulations have highlighted how one regulator’s decisions can have global repercussions. While experts doubt net neutrality repeal will have the same immediate impact internationally, there could be knock-on effects for users elsewhere.

“The weaker the legislative framework in any given country, the more opportunity there will be for big telecoms providers to exploit the mistakes in the U.S. to call for weakening of the laws,” said Joe McNamee, who runs Brussels-based European Digital Rights.

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“As the full ramifications of the destruction of the online ecosystem in the U.S. becomes clear or, (hopefully and preferably) the U.S. takes steps to rectify its mistake, that risk should subside,” he said.

The EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into effect on May 25 makes clear that its territorial scope extends to wherever data processing takes place, even if this is outside the union.

Read more: GDPR: European Union forces pace of protection of individual data on the internet

Some hosts, particularly outside the EU, were clearly caught off-guard by the regulation, with popular sites such as the Los Angeles Times and Chicago Tribune currently unavailable in Europe at the time of writing (June 13).

Screenshot showing the LA Times disclaimer explaining their site iss unavailable due to EU data regulations
The LA Times and other Tronc titles were still unavailable in Europe by mid June screenshot via tronc.com/gdpr/latimes

Tronc, the company which owns the newspapers as well as several others that are still unavailable, did not respond to WikiTribune‘s inquiry.

The fallout from GDPR led some observers to speculate that increasing legislation from divergent regulators could lead to a “fragmentation” of the internet, and an end to the free flow of information that has defined the digital age.

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The repeal of net neutrality in the U.S. is unlikely to have such broad impact, said McNamee.

“Ironically, the U.S. has done a great job, over decades, promoting telecoms liberalisation and the setting up of independent national regulators to enforce the laws underpinning that liberalisation,” he said.

During that time the U.S. has dominated innovation on the Internet with most of the big-name properties being founded there.

McNamee said that the repeal of FCC regulations should also be understood in the context of the U.S. telecoms market, which is less competitive than its counterparts in Europe.

“Abandoning net neutrality benefits literally nobody except very big service providers.”

He suggested regulators in more competitive markets are less likely to feel pressure from service providers.

“It is not a coincidence therefore that the U.S. was the first country to go down this route – as it has a big, uncompetitive market.”

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