22 Million Comments on Net Neutrality: What’s Next?
After months of anticipation, protests and harsh debates, the comment period for the FCC’s proposal to roll back the net neutrality rules is now over. The commission stopped taking responses last Wednesday, August 30, with a record of almost 22 million comments from net neutrality supporters.
Now the commission will look into this feedback (at least they are expected to) and start working on the final draft of the proposal, which Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, announced earlier this year. However, it is still not clear exactly when and how the rules will be finalized as, according to Pai, the commission “will follow the facts and the law where they take us.”
Who Wants to Kill Net Neutrality?
Under consideration is the FCC’s decision to classify Internet service providers (ISPs) as “common carriers” under Title II of the Communications Act. These rules were necessary for the FCC to regulate the behavior of ISPs, ensuring that all web traffic is treated equally. According to these regulations, all ISPs are prohibited from blocking, throttling or prioritizing content when providing their service to customers.
The net neutrality rules, approved on February 26, 2015, were highly welcomed by many tech companies and internet users. However, not everyone liked the idea of the open and unrestricted internet. Although the net neutrality rules were approved by a 3-2 vote, the voting pattern showed a clear division between the two parties. While 3 of the Democrat representatives voted for net neutrality, the Republicans voted against it.
The current FCC chairman Ajit Pai, who was one of the FCC commissioners back then, was also against these rules, saying they “are bringing digital divide” and harming innovation. This, however, sounds controversial as many tech companies driven by innovation are in favor of keeping the net neutrality rules in place.
While the final version of the proposal is now being revised and hopefully modified, millions of internet users, tech companies and fresh startups that directly depend on net neutrality, are left out there to wait and see what’s going to happen next.
What Happens If We Lose Net Neutrality?
What FCC tries to achieve by ditching Title II, is to bring back a “light touch” Title I approach. Although chairman Pai claims that this will not leave internet users unprotected, it is not clear how any protection measures could be implemented. Over the last decade, the agency tried using a number of different laws for enacting reliable protection of net neutrality, and Title II appeared to be the only one to be effective.
If the proposal gets accepted, the FCC will return control of the internet to the ISPs – the ones who had violated users’ rights before the current rules were adopted in 2015. The biggest fear from net neutrality advocates is that this could divide the internet into two parts: one faster web for companies and individuals who will be willing to pay fast lane fees, and a slower version for the rest. Now it does not sound right that you may have to pay an extra fee in order to access the content you are used to getting for free, for e. g., streaming videos or using social networks. This, however, is very likely to happen if we lose the battle of net neutrality.
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