Net Neutrality Targeted for Repeal

November 29, 2017

On Tuesday, Nov. 21, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai released his proposal to repeal net neutrality regulations which currently require internet service providers to provide equal access to the internet. Pai’s proposal will be discussed and voted on during the FCC’s Dec. 14 meeting—and given the 3-Republican to 2-Democrat split on the panel, it is expected that the proposal will be approved. The proposal would allow internet providers to slow down or block access altogether to certain sites, or speed up access to others, provided they alert consumers to these shifts in access.

On the side favoring the repeal of net neutrality rules are telecom companies like AT&T and Verizon that provide internet service and who say the rules prevent them from offering varying access at higher and lower price points. Their argument is that they have spent great resources to build and expand internet access and, due to net neutrality, have been limited in charging high-bandwidth users (like an Amazon or Netflix) a premium for their internet use, or providing lower-cost plans for consumers who want them.

Those who support net neutrality fear that eliminating the rules would establish internet companies as gatekeepers of the internet, giving them great power to charge higher for certain content and/or speed. They assert that assessing a fee to bandwidth use could greatly stymie access to information and content to those with fewer resources, and could make breaking out with a new technology, or product, or company all the more difficult.

Admittedly, this is all theoretical. The adoption of net neutrality rules in 2015—and the preceding 10 years when the FCC adhered to net neutrality-like principles—was not in response to any existing access issues, just the legal possibility for such issues.

Although Comcast has said it wouldn’t engage in slowing access to content, without the net neutrality rules, there’s nothing stopping them—or the other handful of internet service providers—from doing so. In the 2015 rule, the FCC decided to treat the internet as a public utility, this proposal would change that.

In the last decade-plus, there has been a growing push by internet companies to adhere to free-market principles when it comes to the internet. Net neutrality prevents that, to a degree, by prohibiting pay-to-play fee assessments for better and faster transmissions of data—and prevents a telecom company from favoring the transmission of their own or affiliated content and/or services.

Although net neutrality was only codified in 2015, it has been, in some form, part of the FCC’s standard operating procedures since August 2005 when the Republican-controlled FCC voted NOT to adopt formal net neutrality rules, but did adopt four principles “to encourage broadband deployment and preserve and promote the open and interconnected nature” of the internet. Those principles were outlined by then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell who said consumers should be able to:

  • Access the lawful content of their choice
  • Run applications and services of their choice
  • Connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network
  • Have competition among network, application and content providers

Where small business fits into this debate is challenging. Paramount to the discussion ought to be the importance of innovation and how any rule must ensure that small businesses aren’t relegated to a second-class-citizen role unable to pay massive premiums OR limited in how they are allowed to charge and provide access to their own content/services/goods.

To share with NSBA how net neutrality rules impact your firm, please click here.

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