FCC block access to any websites it chooses

FCC Votes to End Net
Neutrality

 

By: Bianca Ybarra, Esq.

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Most people can
agree that the internet is playing an increasingly important role in our
everyday lives. As a result, any change that impacts the regulation of the
internet, and our ability to access it, quickly becomes a newsworthy topic.

 

The Basics

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) net neutrality
regulations were
passed in 2015 under the Obama administration. The goal of the regulations was
to ensure the internet market remain open and fair to allow consumer choice,
freedom of expression and competition. In February of 2015, the FCC ruled in
favor of net neutrality when they reclassified broadband as a common carrier
under Title II of the Communications
Act of 1934
and Section 706 of the Telecommunications
Act of 1996.

 

Generally, the
term “net neutrality” can be described as the principle that prohibits service
providers from treating traffic on the internet differently regardless of the
type or source of the content. Put another way, whether a user is streaming
video or posting pictures, service providers must not block or otherwise
discriminate against content or applications.

 

In compliance
with the regulations, internet service providers were prohibited from intentionally
speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific websites. For instance, AT&T
could not slow down a service like Netflix to put its own streaming video
service at an advantage, nor could it force Hulu to pay more money to receive
faster streaming speeds.

 

The Repeal

In a victory for
internet service providers all over the United States like Comcast, Verizon,
and AT&T, the FCC voted to repeal the regulations it passed in 2015 that
prevented broadband companies from blocking or slowing down access to websites
or services.

 

At its monthly
meeting on December 14, 2017, and despite widespread opposition, Chairman of
the FCC, Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald
trump moved forward with the vote. In a 3-2 vote, the repeal proposal passed, removing
the net neutrality regulations put in place just two years ago.

 

This vote eliminates
the regulations preventing internet providers from blocking or slowing down
online content. Thus, for instance, Comcast can now charge customers who use
Netflix more for using so much bandwidth; or AT&T can, in theory, block
access to any websites it chooses entirely. In addition, the regulation prohibiting
internet providers from discriminating against content in their favor has also
been eliminated. Without the prohibition on these activities, internet providers
must openly disclose any examples of blocking, throttling, or paid
prioritization. Whether the actions are illegal or not will be based on whether
the activity is anti-competitive.

 

In addition to
repealing the net neutrality regulations, the new FCC regulations also deny state
and local governments the power to pass their own laws regulating the broadband
service.

 

How Wil Repealing Net Neutrality Affect
the Consumer

It is critical
to understand that the consumer will not notice an immediate difference in the
internet now that the FCC has voted to repeal the regulations. Before it can go
into effect, the repeal must be published in the Federal Register, which may
not happen until early in the coming year. Nonetheless, because the change will
take time, it is unlikely that the internet experience will change overnight.

 

Any changes to
be implemented are likely to happen over time as companies begin to change
business models and services. Although services like Netflix and Hulu will not
disappear overnight, advocates for net neutrality worry how the repeal may
impact the new, younger services. Jump-start companies may struggle to contract
with internet service providers and pay to have their content delivered. This
could fundamentally alter the future internet setup and the market as a whole.

 

It is important
to recognize that the repeal could change how customers are billed for the
services they use. Without net neutrality, internet providers are now legally
able to pursue similar offers more assertively. 

 

What is Next?

Concerned that
internet providers will control internet traffic in anti-competitive ways, supporters
of net neutrality have pledged to continue the fight in court. When the repeal
is published in the Federal Register in early 2018, we can expect lawsuits to
be filed.

 

Bianca Ybarra is a Staff Writer for
GetLegal.com. She is a graduate of the University of Houston Law Center and a
member of the State Bar of Texas.

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