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Net neutrality rules are dead, but fight lives on

June 18, 2018 


The repeal of net neutrality rules became official Monday despite their popularity with the majority of Americans, opposition from the U.S. Senate and numerous court challenges already underway against the FCC’s controversial decision to end the Obama-era regulations.

In May, the Senate voted to overturn the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal. Last week, Senate Democrats urged House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, to bring the issue to a vote on the House floor.

"It is incumbent on the House of Representatives to listen to the voices of consumers, including the millions of Americans who supported the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality order, and keep the internet free and open for all," they said in a letter Thursday. More than 80 percent of Americans support net neutrality, according to a University of Maryland poll released in December.

The House has not held a vote on the bill.

The repeal of rules governing net neutrality — the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally — will free internet providers to create slow and fast lanes, or to prefer certain online traffic over others.

"Plain and simple, thanks to the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality, internet providers have the legal green light, the technical ability, and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate what we see, read, and learn online," said Jessica Rosenworcel, FCC commissioner, in a statement Monday. She is now the only Democratic commissioner left on the FCC, which has been reshaped under President Trump. Rosenworcel voted against the FCC’s repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Rules in December with another Democratic commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, who has since left the agency.

Some big ISPs have said they have no plans to throttle internet traffic.

"It’s business as usual on the internet today — movies are streaming, e-commerce is thriving, and advocates are using the internet to make their voices heard," said Jonathan Spalter, president of broadband trade group USTelecom, which counts AT&T and Verizon as members, in a statement Monday. "These positive and profound benefits of a free and open internet — among many others — are here to stay."

But Gigi Sohn, former counselor for former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, said in a statement Monday that consumers will have little recourse against ISPs if they have a complaint about internet providers’ behavior: "For the first time since the creation of broadband, the (FCC) will not take responsibility for protecting consumers or competition."

The FCC’s new rules require ISPs to publicly disclose how they manage traffic, but they charge the Federal Trade Commission with handling complaints should they arise.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed to his position by President Trump, drafted the repeal of net neutrality rules for the sake of innovation and increased broadband investment, he said. He insisted during an interview Monday on "CBS This Morning" that "consumers are going to be protected.

"Both at the FCC, we have a transparency rule where every company in the U.S. has to disclose their business practices, and the Federal Trade Commission is empowered to take action against any company who engages in any anti-competitive conducts," Pai said.

Critics say the FTC is backward-looking and there will be no rules to keep ISPs from hurting consumers in the first place.

Several states are enacting their own rules, or are in the process of adopting net neutrality rules. In California, SB 822 is scheduled for Assembly committee hearings this week after the state senate approved it at the end of May.

And advocacy groups continue to fight.

"The gutting of net neutrality is a symbol of our broken democracy," said Evan Greer, deputy director of Fight For the Future, in a statement Monday. "It’s the worst of the worst that the D.C. swamp has to offer. But it has sparked an unprecedented backlash from across the political spectrum, and internet users are coming out of the woodwork to fight tooth and nail in Congress, in the courts, and at the local and state level."

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services