On Thursday (May 18), the Republican-led Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 2-1, along political party lines, to begin undoing a key order from the Obama era, with the goal of slackening the regulations on the Internet service industry.
The vote initiates a rule-making process to replace the Open Internet order, or net neutrality rules, which would then weaken regulations on Internet service providers (ISPs). The rules were adopted in 2015 by the same FCC, then headed by Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat.
The new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, nominated by Republican President Donald Trump, had frequently voiced his opposition to several Obama-era regulations. The attempts to dismantle them began with a controversial vote in Congress back in March, canceling previously approved FCC directives on Internet privacy.
Last month, Pai unveiled a proposal to repeal another FCC decision, which had reclassified ISPs as common carriers under the so-called Title II. Pai’s proposal potentially revokes the 2015 protections by re-reclassifying ISPs under Title I, which courts have already ruled insufficient for protecting the principles of net neutrality. The result: ISPs would once again be able to prioritize, block and throttle Internet traffic with impunity.
Chairman Pai also has plans to stop treating wireless carriers the same as cable providers.
“Today’s notice is the start of a new chapter in the public discussion about how we can best maintain a free and open internet while making sure that ISPs have strong incentives to bring next-generation networks and services to all Americans,” he said during Thursday’s open meeting where the vote took place.
For Internet users worried about their streaming sites and other services, Thursday’s move won’t result in a swift change: It sets off a three-month public comment period, where initial comments must be filed within 60 days, until July 17, with another 30 days for replies to those by Aug. 16.
More than 2.1 million comments have already been submitted, partly because of HBO host John Oliver encouraging viewers to share their opinions on the FCC site. However, hundreds of thousands of those appear to be orchestrated, possibly bot-filed anti-net neutrality comments, submitted under the names of other people. The FCC insisted it was attacked by hackers but has not released any evidence to confirm that claim.
Elsewhere, net neutrality supporters have argued that the repeal initiative is driven by lobbyists from the telecommunications industry. They don’t seem to be placated by the industry claims to love net neutrality.
The FCC’s sole Democrat, Mignon Clyburn, said the decision to revisit the rules was merely the latest in a wider effort by the agency’s Republicans to sabotage its duties. “The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation and a wholesale destruction of the FCC’s public interest authority in the 21st century,” she said in her dissent.
Prior to the vote, net neutrality supporters staged a protest outside the FCC’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Congressional Democrats have also expressed their opposition to the anti-net neutrality scheme, and Senator Edward Markey (D-Mass.) joined the protest. Representative Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) said: “This action will undermine the free and open Internet and hand its control over to a few powerful corporate interests.”
NordVPN remains firmly in the camp of net neutrality supporters. Activities such as content blocking and throttling deny the right to free and open Internet, and we at NordVPN fully support the free flow of information. Our VPN service reroutes the Internet traffic through an alternative path, bypassing ISPs and avoiding throttling and censorship.
If you’re concerned about the threat to net neutrality, call your member of Congress to let them know your opinion and post a comment on the proposal at the FCC. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a good tool for that, as the regular posting process is quite complicated.