Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules Officially Repealed

FCC Ajit Pai

Current FCC chairman Ajit Pai spearheaded the effort to return the internet to the way it was before the rules took effect, and despite the overwhelming support for keeping the rules intact, the FCC voted 3-2 to reverse course.

In the days of net neutrality, internet service providers were not allowed to block access to any website - unless that website was in breach of the law. Others, including the governors of Montana and NY, used executive orders to force net neutrality.

But, in December, the FCC voted to repeal the rules. "Our transparency rule will also help ensure that any problematic conduct by Internet service providers is quickly identified and corrected".

In May, a bill was approved in the Senate to save net neutrality rules.

Comcast Corp (CMCSA.O), Verizon Communications Inc (VZ.N) and AT&T Inc (T.N) have pledged to not block or discriminate against legal content after the rules expire.

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Washington and OR have gone farther, and passed laws that require all ISPs within their borders to offer net neutrality protections.

Pai told CBS that he doesn't believe regulating the internet in the same way phone networks are regulated is the best way to achieve the goal of a "free and open" internet. The FCC order that just took effect asserts authority to prevent states from pursuing laws inconsistent with the net neutrality repeal. One specific fear is that smaller companies and startups will not have the same opportunities to grow if ISPs can pick and choose companies and services to favor in what is called "paid prioritization".

"Those "fast lanes" will put those who won't or can not pay in the slow lane, making the internet look a lot like cable TV", said Gigi Sohn, a former counselor for the FCC. Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and it's essentially how the internet has worked since its inception. The FTC could also file lawsuits against ISPs to stop anti-competitive practices.

Even though net neutrality is dead, don't expect to see immediate changes, said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight for the Future, a digital rights advocacy group. What's more, five Democratic governors have issued executive orders barring their states from doing business with a broadband firm that violates the principals of net neutrality. In his view, removing the rule will open the floodgates to corporate investment, ultimately providing faster and more widespread internet access.

Supporters of net neutrality, on the other hand, say that its death will lead to certain content being blocked by internet providers, slowing down and throttling speeds on certain websites, internet tolls and a situation where users may have to pay to use everyday services. The Senate last month passed a Congressional Review Act measure 52-47 aiming to overturn the 2017 measure (the CRA is a quick way to overturn newly-passed regulations within 60 legislative days of passage).

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