04 January 2018
| Jason Mcgee-Abe
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to repeal the Obama-era net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote across party lines.
The FCC, led by its Donald Trump-elected chairman Ajit Pai,
voted on 14 December to revoke the rules that were created to
"safeguard a free and open internet". These rules barred
internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or throttling
lawful traffic or creating fast lanes to prioritise paid-for
"What is responsible for the phenom-enal development of the
internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed
govern-ment regulation. Quite to the contrary," Pai said in a
statement, just weeks after he had published his draft
'Restoring Internet Freedom’ order.
According to the former Verizon lawyer, it was President
Clinton and the Republican Congress’s decision to
adopt a "light-touch" approach to the internet, which resulted
in its progress, one that was "unfettered by Federal or State
regulation". During 1996-2015, he said, a staggering $1.5
trillion was invested into the internet.
But in 2015, Pai says the government got it wrong, as the
Obama administ-ration "jettisoned this successful, bipartisan
approach to the internet" subjecting the internet to
"utility-style regulation designed in the 1930s to govern Ma
Bell". As a result, "investment in high-speed networks has
declined by billions of dollars", he said. On 26 February 2015,
the FCC ruled in favour of net neutrality by reclassifying
broad-band access as a telecommunications service and applying
Title II (common carrier) of the Communications Act from 1934
as well as section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to
Charter Communications, which has openly backed the repeal
of net neutrality in the past, said in a statement: "Our
objection to Title II has never been about not wanting to
provide our customers with an open internet ... We have been
concerned about its overly broad and vague prohibitions as well
as the potential for rate regulation. By bringing its approach
into the 21st century, the FCC is helping provide regulatory
predictability so companies like Charter can be confident in
making even greater investments in our broadband
Pai has stated that as a result of the vote, the FCC "will
once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and
promote competition, just as it did before 2015". AT&T,
Comcast and Verizon have unsurprisingly issued statements of
support. Comcast has a dedicated page on its website
reaffirming its commitment to an open internet, stressing "we
do not block, slow down or discriminate against lawful
content", adding that transparency and customer protection is
"Verizon fully supports the open internet, and we will
continue to do so. Our customers demand it and our business
depends on it," said Will Johnson, senior vice president of
regulatory affairs at Verizon.
The biggest concern over the legislation is that a
roll-back, which presently stops providers from blocking legal
content, throttling lawful traffic or prioritising paid-for
content, could have a chilling effect on OTT diversity and
could clear the way for ISPs to start charging users.
Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix have
argued that telecom companies may start prioritising their own
streaming video services or interfering with messaging apps
like Skype or WhatsApp.
The backlash to the FCC’s vote has been
dramatic. Netflix was one of the first companies to condemn the
decision in a Twitter post: "We’re disappointed in
the decision to gut #NetNeutrality protections that ushered in
an unprecedented era of innovation, creativity & civic
engagement. This is the beginning of a longer legal battle.
Netflix stands w/ innovators, large & small, to oppose this
misguided FCC order."
Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg took to her
personal profile on the platform to express her disapproval:
"Today’s decision from the Federal Communications
Commission to end net neutrality is disappointing and harmful.
An open internet is critical for new ideas and economic
opportunity – and internet providers
shouldn’t be able to decide what people can see
online or charge more for certain websites. We’re
ready to work with members of Congress and others to help make
the internet free and open for everyone."
But it’s not just these companies that are
threatening legal action. Pai’s plan also blocks
state and local governments from imposing their own net
neutrality rules and many states in the US are choosing to
Within minutes of the decision, New York attorney general
Eric Schneiderman declared that he would be leading a
multi-state lawsuit against the FCC: "We will be filing a claim
to preserve protections for New Yorkers and all Americans. And
we’ll be working aggressively to stop the
FCC’s leadership from doing any further damage to
the internet and to our economy."