Yesterday, despite months of public campaigning against it, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to dismantle the Net Neutrality regulations it put in place just two years ago.
The rules, which will now be removed, prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking and throttling traffic and from creating a two-tier system, with customers and websites paying higher rates for access to the fast lanes, or for certain content.
They also ensured that ISPs were classified as Title II common carriers, meaning that they could be regulated as if they were a utility, something that everyone relies on and should have access to, like the phone service.
With the removal of these rules, the FCC have removed their own ability to regulate ISPs, and have paved the way for broadband companies to charge consumers for faster access to content and to charge them fragmentally for certain types of service, for instance charging a flat fee for internet access and an addition fee for social media sites or streaming services.
Jessica Rosenworcel, one of the two Democrats on the Commission, called the decision “rash”:
As a result of today’s misguided action, our broadband providers will get extraordinary new power from this agency. They will have the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content. They will have the right to discriminate and favor the internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road.
Now our broadband providers will tell you they will never do these things. They say just trust us. But know this: they have the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate your internet traffic. And now this agency gives them the legal green light to go ahead and do so.
The other Democrat Commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, highlighted the real-terms effects of this decision on the industry:
And just who will be impacted the most? Consumers and small businesses, that’s who. The internet continues to evolve and has become ever more critical for every participant in our 21st century ecosystem: government services have migrated online, as have educational opportunities and job notices and applications, but at the same time, broadband providers have continued to consolidate, becoming bigger. They own their own content, they own media companies, and they own or have an interest in other types of services.
She added, decisively:
It is abundantly clear why we see so much bad process with this item: because the fix was already in.
However, nothing will change overnight—and there’s a chance that it could not happen at all.
The Congressional Review Act means that Congress could, in theory, overrule the FCC’s decision by issuing a resolution of disapproval. But this would need to take place within the next 60 days, and the resolution would have to be supported by two-thirds of the House and the Senate—or have presidential backing, which it is unlikely to get.
While it sounds like a long shot, the CRA has actually been used several times this year to overturn regulations penned in the Obama era—and Senator Ed Markey and Representative Mike Doyle have already committed to introducing a CRA resolution of disapproval, and Markey has already made headway on this, with the apparent support of 17 other senators.
There are 239 Republicans in the House, and only 107 have publically stated that they support the removal of the Net Neutrality rules. That means that there are 132 Republicans in the House that may, potentially, support Sen. Markey’s resolution.
And how do we make this happen?
Write to and call Congress right now and tell them to defend Net Neutrality. Visit TheBattleForTheNet.com and use their simple form to make your voice heard. This could be the last chance to save the internet as we know it.
And if we don’t succeed?
Well, to quote Commissioner Clyburn:
Many have asked, what happens next? How will all of this – Net Neutrality, my internet experience, look after today? My answer is simple. When the current protections are abandoned, and the rules that have been officially in place since 2015 are repealed, we will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality. We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all that is left is a broadband provider’s toothy grin and those oh so comforting words: we have every incentive to do the right thing.
Let’s not let this happen. Visit TheBattleForTheNet.com today and every day until this resolution is forced. Make them listen.
It’s not over til it’s over.