The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has officially published the order to end net neutrality. This means the US is in the next phase in the fight for how consumers and Internet service providers interact with the Internet.
The move overturns Obama-era regulations that have governed the Internet since 2015.
Congress now has 60 legislative working days to reverse the decision under the Congressional Review Act. The Federal Register is also taking public comment for two 30-day periods. You can file your own comment here (note: it's "17-108" in the proceedings dropdown menu).
If Congress doesn't overturn the Obama-era regulations, elected officials could re-establish net neutrality through legislation at the state or federal level as was the case in Montana. State attorney generals and other groups can take up the challenge in court.
The “Restoring Internet Freedom Order” repeals rules that prevent Internet service providers (ISPs) from treating certain content differently. Under the order, ISPs are required to tell their customers if they plan to block or speed up/slow down traffic. This next phase requires the Office of Management and Budget to collect more information about how they intend to do that.
ISPs will essentially be reclassified as “information services” instead of “public utilities” – such as a phone or electric service – which is currently regulated by the FCC. This means the agencies will no longer have a policy from stopping Internet providers from blocking, slowing down, or charging more for certain content as they see fit.
The battle heated up last December after the commission voted to move forward with the repeal. They made the vote official by publishing the order in the Federal Register, the official “newspaper” of the government.
Some say the repeal favors the interests of telecommunications companies (who initially saw jumps in stock value) over the rights of consumers. It may also negatively impact marginalized groups who rely on online platforms to communicate and share content.
Under the umbrella of the Internet Association, tech giants like Amazon, Facebook, and Google oppose the repeal, saying “net neutrality protections are critical to a thriving Internet ecosystem that benefits everyone”. They also say the FCC is the “expert agency” best equipped to enforce consumer protections.
The commission says the move “returns to the light-touch regulatory scheme that enabled the internet to develop and thrive for nearly two decades.”
Dissenting democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn called the order the “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."
Internet providers – like Comcast, AT&T, Spectrum, and Verizon – will now be able to favor certain sites and charge customers additional fees to access them. ISPs can put apps or companies that pay more into the fast lane (their content will load more quickly and appear at the top in feeds), but their policies must be made transparent to consumers.
For big companies that can afford those charges, this might not have a huge impact, but start-ups with less funds will likely be limited.