Internet Guide Logo

Federal Communications Commission votes to weaken Net Neutrality rules

Last Edit: 14/12/17

Net Neutrality, the principle that all Internet data packets should be treated the same, has come 'under attack' from a vote by the Federal Communications Commission. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is an independent agency of the United States government that regulates interstate digital communication technologies, and has voted 3-2 (today) in favour of allowing Internet service providers (ISPs) the ability to charge users based on the Internet service they access and alter the speed by which specific data is accessed. Without strict Net Neutrality rules, it has always been feasible that ISPs could block access to competitors business services, or levy charges to businesses/websites, and this rule change appears to bring that scenario one step closer. However, these fears are not apparent when reading the FCC's tweet in response to today's vote: "The FCC just voted to restore the long-standing, bipartisan approach to protecting Internet freedom."

Previously, Google, and its co-owner, Sergey Brin, have attempted to defend Net Neutrality aggressively, visiting Capitol Hill to lobby in its favour in 2006. The Network Neutrality Act of 2006 was sponsored by Democrat Edward Markey, and its aim was: "To promote open broadband networks and innovation, foster electronic commerce, and safeguard consumer access to online content and services." However, Net Neutrality in the United States has continued to be challenged by the practices of large cable companies (Comcast was accused of blocking BitTorrent uploads in 2007) and has continued to be questioned/attacked by a range of U.S. politicians. In 2017, Ajit Pai was designated as FFC Chairman by President Donald Trump, and was credited as stating that Net Neutrality's "days were numbered" (Title II) in 2016. The FCC commissioners are currently split between the two American parties: 3 are Republicans and 2 are Democrats: it appears the Democrats voted against (which included Mignon Clyburn) and the Republicans voted in favour (which included the FCC's chairman, Ajit Pai) of repealing Net Neutrality rules.

Comments (on Twitter) from large tech companies have largely been negative in response to the vote: Microsoft's new president, Brad Smith, has tweeted the following: "Microsoft believes in preserving the open internet & opposes weakening net neutrality protections" and "The open internet benefits consumers, business & the entire economy. Democrat politicians have also been notable in their criticism: Governor of Connecticut Dannel Patrick Malloy has tweeted: "The FCC vote to repeal #NetNeutrality rules is an all-out assault on a free and open internet. Open internet access is essential to our economic competitiveness. This move is anti-consumer, anti-competitive, and flies in the face of the best interests of the people of our nation."

There has also been notable support of the FCC vote: the the 54th Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, tweeted: "This is the right call by @AjitPaiFCC and the @FCC. The way to keep the internet free and open and protect consumers is to crack down on internet service providers that would abuse open access." Jon Leibowitz, Democratic commissioner at the FTC from 2004-2013, wrote in the Wall Street Journal, that: "Everybody Calm Down About Net Neutrality, the FCC’s vote this week only restores power to the Federal Trade Commission, whose record is strong."