On Dec. 14, in a 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commision voted to reverse the decision to classify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon as public utilities, enabling these businesses to change the speed of traffic for internet users based on discrimination. The regulations that were repealed were proposed by former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler and passed in February 2015, setting the groundwork for Net Neutrality in the U.S. The decision to repeal the act was proposed by the 2017 FCC chairman and former lawyer for Verizon, Ajit Pai, who had expressed his desire to leave control of the internet in the hands of major internet service providers. Despite the large amount of backlash that had been generated as a result of his announcement, the move was successfully passed. Repealing the act is an unwarranted and unjustified move that will remove protections for consumers against major internet service providers.
The regulations were put in place to ensure that consumers would receive fair treatment in connection services regardless of the sites they visit. Without these regulations, Tier One ISPs have the go-ahead to slow bandwidth to certain sites or services, forcing customers to pay extra if they want normal access speeds. This is not a new occurrence or a hypothetical scenario. In the past, Comcast attempted to restrict its users’ access to popular websites to protect its proprietary Xfinity TV service, which garnered a severe amount of backlash from consumers and companies alike for violating net neutrality. If these regulations are repealed, Comcast can do the same thing, only this time with impunity.
What does this mean for the global market?
Another negative aspect of the repeal is that, despite Pai’s argument that the deregulation would spur innovation and competition among ISPs, no real competition or innovation would develop because the major ISPs are in charge of the overarching broadband connections like fiber-optics and satellites. In a sense, the whole telecommunications market is already effectively monopolized by those large companies who can control what people see and hear.
According to the major ISPs, the regulations leave too much power in the hands of the government and stifles investment and innovation. But investment and innovation is stifled by the ISPs themselves through the creation of monopolies that reduce competition for consumers and businesses. A good alternative that would satisfy both sides would be to allow major ISPs to offer prioritization of data equally among businesses or create a public option ISP where local loop unbundling would allow for multiple telecommunications operators to use the connections from the telephone exchange to deliver data to customers.
As much as we would like to have an idealized world where big companies wouldn’t go through unscrupulous practices to reduce competition and regulation wouldn’t be necessary, removing the Net Neutrality rules wouldn’t be a good first step. Not when we can’t trust big companies like Comcast to stay on their best behavior and not try to screw with consumer’s connections to popular websites like Youtube and Netflix just so that they could promote their own streaming service. But though the rules have been voted on already and the FCC is preparing to reverse the 2015 act, the fight will still go on to preserve Net Neutrality.