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December 15, 2017
On Dec. 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to repeal net neutrality. If you’ve been on Twitter within the past two weeks, you might think that this is the end of the world. Regardless, you probably still have questions.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the principle that we, as web users, should be able to access the internet without the threat of broadband providers (Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, etc.) restricting our access to certain websites. The regulations were established during the Obama administration in an attempt to give more protections to Americans, who were becoming increasingly reliant on the internet in all aspects of their life. Republicans believe that the regulations are too strict on business, whereas Democrats say they are necessary for a fair internet.
Should I be surprised that net neutrality got repealed?
No. The vote was expected to pass on party lines, and the five-person FCC is made up of three Republicans and two Democrats. Although one Democratic commissioner brought out two large folders full of letters sent in by concerned citizens in her dissenting vote, the commission elected to move ahead with chairman Ajit Pai’s vision for the internet, which was outlined earlier this year.
Who should I be mad at?
The media, for one. Net neutrality was lost in the shuffle of other Trump-related news in the days leading up to the vote, and the firing of one of the president’s aides took center stage the day before. Pai, of course, is another easy one, as he has advocated for this change since becoming chairman.
I know Trump is involved. How?
Trump appointed Pai as chairman of the commission but hasn’t commented publicly about the issue. He is not the reason net neutrality was repealed, though; that decision lies solely in the hands of the FCC.
Am I going to have to pay for Snapchat and Instagram access?
Not yet. It’s not entirely clear yet how the repeal will affect our internet usage. Most of the major telecom companies have assured customers that their access to the internet will not be altered, and the decision is, at its core, intended to prevent broadband companies from favoring some websites over others.
How bad could it get?
Very. According to Steve Huffman, chief executive of Reddit, the decision gives “internet service providers the ability to choose winners and losers.” Broadband companies are now legally allowed to increase internet speeds for their business partners, which would push consumers towards those websites. Meanwhile, they also have the ability to charge companies to stay on their network, which would force some websites to charge money from internet users for access.
Is there a silver lining?
Maybe. In his speech on killing net neutrality, Pai echoed the complaints of telecom companies, which were that they were not upgrading their networks as quickly as they wanted to because of the Obama-era regulations. Now that they are lifted, Pai says that “broadband providers will have more incentive to build networks, especially to underserved areas. We are helping consumers and promoting competition.”
Is that a lie?
According to some experts, yes. The telecom industry is not a competitive one to begin with, so the companies have a strong position should they decide to charge consumers for access to websites. There aren’t many other places for us to turn for internet service.
I don’t like this at all. Is anyone doing anything to overturn the repeal?
Many public interest groups, from the free press Action Fund to the National Hispanic Media Coalition, are planning to sue the FCC over the decision. Over the years, members of Congress have pushed to pass a law on the issue so that it didn’t result in court challenges so frequently.