25 April 2018
| Natalie Bannerman
The Open Internet order was due to be revoked this week, but as delays have pushed this back, we look at how the entire net neutrality saga unfolded.
Monday (23 April) marked the day that the net neutrality
repeal was due to come into effect and if you listened to most
OTT’s and content providers this was the day that
the internet was coming to an end.
Back in February, Ajit Pai, chairman of the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) and advocate of the net
neutrality repeal, published the Restoring Internet Freedom
order which outlined the date which the repeal would come into
effect. The order excluded five amendatory instructions (2,
3, 5, 6, and 8), which have delayed approval from the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB). These approvals of the new rules
– which are largely to determine whether or not the
transparency requirements for ISPs aren’t too
demanding - has meant that the Restoring Internet Freedom order
isn’t likely come into full effect till sometime
The debate surrounding net neutrality has been going on way
before Pai and the FCC decided to roll back the rules. It was
only in 2015 under president Obama that the current net
neutrality rules came into force. Tom Wheeler, the then
chairman of FCC, said: "For over a decade, the Commission has
endeavoured to protect and promote the open internet. Today is
the culmination of that effort, as we adopt the strongest
possible open internet protections".
At the time it was players like
Netflix pushing for changes in Open Internet rules,
lobbying against having to pay ISPs for improved delivery of
content to its customers.
Following the introduction of US open internet rules,
countries around the wold began reviewing its internet
In 2016, Facebook planned to roll out free access to its social
media services in India via a number of select operators. The
plan was ultimately blocked by the Telecom Regulatory Authority
of India (TRAI) on the grounds of upholding net neutrality.
The regulator said: "Telecom service providers will be
prohibited from offering different/discriminatory tariffs based
on content, service, application or any other data which the
user is accessing or transmitting on the internet."
The decision was closely followed by a pre-consultation on net
neutrality rules lobbied by Cellular Operators Association of
India (COAI) to lift a ban on differential pricing of data
By the summer of that same year the EU telecoms regulator, Body
of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC),
had released its final guidelines for net neutrality rules.
"Our rules, and today's guidelines, avoid fragmentation in the
single market, create legal certainty for businesses and make
it easier for them to work across border. They also ensure that
the internet remains an engine for innovation and that advanced
technologies and Internet of Things services like connected
vehicles as well as 5G applications are developed today, and
will flourish in the future," said European Commission vice
president Andrus Ansip and commissioner Günther Oettinger
in a joint statement.
Fast forward roughly a year and under the newly elected Trump
administration, Pai is named as the new chairman of the FCC,
after previous chair Wheeler stepped down. Pai has long
been an opponent of net neutrality having voted against the
rules, calling them "dangerous" assault on the "culture of the
By April 2017 Pai had begun revealing his plans to have the
open internet rules of his predecessor scrapped. It was at
this point that talk of the now infamous 'light touch
regulation’ came into play and Pai became very
focused on using this to promote investment in next-gen
"Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious
mistake," Pai said in his speech at the Newseum in Washington.
"It’s basic economics. The more heavily you
regulate something, the less of it you’re likely
The decision was of course praised by the ISP community.
Randall Stephenson, CEO of AT&T, said: "
We applaud FCC Chairman Pai’s initiative to remove
this stifling regulatory cloud over the internet. Businesses
large and small will have a clearer path to invest more in our
nation’s broadband infrastructure under Chairman
In the days that followed Verizon was centre of a traffic
throttling scandal of its own. The telco admitted to capping
traffic to all video content, in a move the company said was to
"optimise the performance of video applications on our
network". The news was seen as an example of what could
happen if the repeal of net neutrality were to take place.
AT&T had its own incident of alleged throttling when it
slowed data sent through its mobile division brought by the
Federal Trade Commission.
By December, the FCC had officially voted to repeal the
Obama-era net neutrality rules in a 3-2 vote across party
The fall out was undeniably severe with Netflix, Twitter,
Amazon, Facebook, Reddit, the Internet Association and a number
of political opponents all taking to social media to express
But Pai remained strong saying that the internet thrived
before the rules came into play and it would continue to do so
without it. "What is responsible for the phenomenal development
of the Internet? It certainly wasn’t heavy-handed
government regulation, he said. Using a "light touch" approach
"unfettered by Federal or State regulation." During 1996
– 2015 he explained a staggering $1.5 trillion dollars
was invested into the internet.
But not all were convinced, at the beginning of this year and
less than a month after the vote, a multi-state lawsuit, led by
Eric Schneiderman and a coalition of 21 other attorneys
general, was filed against the FCC over its "illegal rollback
of net neutrality".
In the official press release announcing the lawsuit,
Schneiderman said: "The repeal of net neutrality would turn
internet service providers into gatekeepers – allowing
them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we
see, what we do, and what we say online. This would be a
disaster for New York consumers and businesses, and for
everyone who cares about a free and open internet."
Mignon Clyburn, a strong supporter of net neutrality in the
Federal Communications Commission, stepped down from her
position after nine years with the regulator. And most
recently Jon Leibowitz, the former Obama appointed chair of the
Federal Trade Commission (FTC), has begun working as a private
practice lawyer and now sits as co-chair for the
21st Century Privacy Coalition – the
telecoms interest group- where he has lobbied against state
level net neutraility rules. In his previous role at the FTC
Leibowitz ushered in a number of online privacy protections,
and acted as a "cop on the beat in the market for broadband
services," he said. But these days he lobbies for the likes of
Comcast and says that repealing net neutrality "will not
undermine consumers’ online experience or leave
consumers unprotected from harmful actions taken by broadband
But as the full impact of net neutrality has yet to take
hold, the global implications can still be felt.
Portugal’s telecoms regulator Anacom received a
complaint signed by 13 civil society organisations on the
grounds of a major net neutrality violations. Anacom is being
asked to prohibit zero-rating offers.
"Portugal features the worst net neutrality violations we
have seen in Europe to this day. It is hard to imagine how an
independent regulator cannot find those offers in violation of
EU law," said Thomas Lohninger, executive director of
epicenter.works, a member organisation of European Digital
Rights (EDRi). "In this complaint, we present legal and
economic evidence that, by all criteria of the EU net
neutrality rules, these products should be prohibited."
Restoring Internet Freedom,
Office of Management and Budget,