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FCC Going Back on Net Neutrality and Subscriber Privacy

Image element source: Savetheinternet.com

[UPDATE March 1, 2017] A Federal Communications Commission order has significantly reduced the scope of the net neutrality rule that requires broadband providers to share certain service data. Originally, providers with fewer than 100,000 subscribers were excepted from the rule. The order has raised that number to 250,000, possibly allowing more companies to avoid implementing certain consumer protections.

The new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has also announced his plans to block the privacy rule adopted by the Commission in late 2016. Pai drew attention to alleged contradiction between the privacy mandate and existing FTC rules, and therefore intends to halt its coming into force on March 2.

Net Neutrality Rules 2015

If you remember, in June 2015, the FCC’s new net neutrality regulations went into full effect. In general, the rules were put in place to stop Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking user access to certain apps, platforms and websites. It also prevented ISPs from throttling traffic speeds or alternatively selling what’s known as ‘fast lanes.’

Because the FCC had already attempted these rules before in 2010, but were overturned because of weak legal backing, they implemented a new interpretation. In the 2015 net neutrality regulation, the FCC reclassified ISPs’ legal standing, claiming they are utilities, not luxuries. Therefore, the FCC will have the power to regulate them.

This of course was met with a legal challenge that ended in June 2016, when the court found that high-speed internet was as important as phone and power. It further stated that the service should be available to all Americans, and therefore requires government supervision.

However, with the changes in the White House, anti-net neutrality supporters (certain politicians and telecom companies) set their eyes on the FCC again. On January 3, 2017, American cable providers led by USTelecom filed a petition with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modify some parts of the 2016 ISP privacy rule (the net neutrality ruling).

The Trump Administration

The Trump administration FCC transition team has net neutrality proponents worried. Although Donald Trump has stayed away from comments about net neutrality, his FCC transition team has more staunch net neutrality opponents.

This, of course, is bad news for the future of net neutrality and the FCC in general. However, most were expecting the first oppositions to only start after Donald Trump was sworn into office.

In order to overturn the FCC’s net neutrality ruling, they would either have to go all the way to the Supreme Court, or to get Congress to pass a new set of laws. Both of those are quite difficult and time-consuming.

However, there’s another alternative: get the FCC to change the old rule or implement the new rule. That’s where this new privacy petition comes into play.

USTelecom’s Legal Strategy

The petition is asking for a reconsideration of the ISP privacy rule—only one aspect of the net neutrality rules. The privacy ruling sets limits on what ISPs can do with users’ private data.

Although USTelecom has some opposition to it, it is largely seen as a small door to crack the entire net neutrality ruling wide open. USTelecom is maintaining all its arguments from the previous petition it filed and lost against the FCC in June.

Additionally, it seems that besides petitioning the FCC to overturn or reconsider its rules, net neutrality opponents can also use the Congressional Review Act to change the ruling.

The Review Act was created in 1996, and it is a way for Congress to have a second look at significant, recently finalized rules. If the lawmakers believe the rule was created in error, they can issue a resolution. If the President agrees, then the ruling will be rolled back.

Unfortunately, that is likely in the new administration.

This story is still developing. Check back regularly on the NordVPN blog for the latest updates on the long-lasting net neutrality debate.



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