In a decision that was as inevitable as a snowman’s doom in warm weather, Federal Communications Commission voted to hand over control of the internet to giant telecommunications corporations.
The vote was 3-2. In so doing, FCC sided with AT&T, Comcast, Verizon—the former employer of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who pushed through the repeal of so-called net neutrality—and other internet service providers (ISPs) against virtually everyone else, including technology companies, small businesses and the public. FCC also ignored an investigation that found that as many as 2 million comments that were filed with FCC during the public-comments period were fake, which New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman calls a “corruption” of the public-comment process.
The decision reverses an FCC order in 2015 that reclassified wired and wireless ISPs as providing a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The internet will revert to Title I classification as an information service.
Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs must treat all internet content equally. FCC’s 2015 order also banned ISPs from charging content providers for providing faster internet speeds to reach consumers (paid prioritization) and prohibited ISPs from blocking or slowing internet traffic.
The new rule, which is expected to face a legal challenge, scraps the bans in favor of self-regulation that puts the onus on ISPs to act responsibly. Oversight of abuses returns to Federal Trade Commission.
Naturally, Pai says that reversing course on net neutrality is good for consumers, because they’ll benefit from an increase in innovation. Three experts whom we interviewed in May 2017 when the new rules were proposed disagreed. They said consumers would pay more for their internet service—and services that they get through the internet—over time. The experts also said FTC is ill-equipped to handle internet abuses.
Ernesto Falcon of Electronic Frontier Foundation, which promotes digital civil liberties, said at the time that although he acknowledged that Pai was pro-deregulation, Pai also cared enough about the future of the internet that experts could influence the shape of the final rule.
“If the end goal still is to reclassify the internet to Title I, then the intention was never to allow a free and open internet,” Falcon said at the time. “The intent was to stand down against cable and telephone companies.”
In light of the fact that the final rule essentially is unchanged from the proposed rule, Consumers Digest asked Falcon whether his original comment stood. He says it does.
When FCC proposed the rule to repeal net neutrality, Pai wrote that he wanted to return to the “bipartisan, light-touch regulatory framework under which a free and open internet flourished for almost 20 years.”
However, John Gasparini of consumer-advocacy organization Public Knowledge pointed out the irony of Pai’s statement. The internet flourished in the ’90s, he said, because the phone companies were bound by Title II classification and had to allow access to their phone lines to ISPs.
“The internet was allowed to thrive, because strong Title II classification kept the incumbent telecoms in place,” he said.