Two weeks ago, in a heavily controversial move, the FCC repealed net neutrality in a 3-2 vote split along party lines. This decision has several immediate consequences affecting each and every American citizen.
However, not all of the effects of the repeal will be immediately visible. In order to understand the long-term consequences, let’s quickly recap. Net neutrality is the basic principle that prevents internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, or AT&T from arbitrarily speeding up, slowing down, or preventing access to content over their networks. For example, Comcast, which already has a stake in Hulu, could throttle Netflix, Hulu’s direct competitor, slowing down its streaming speeds and forcing consumers to switch to Hulu out of necessity rather than Hulu being the superior service. This sort of business practice is inherently anti-competition, and by extension, anti-consumer and anti-free market.
Fortunately, there is an upside, if only a temporary one. It’s highly unlikely that ISPs will go ahead and capitalize on the business opportunities opened up to them by the FCC just this second. Given the pro-open internet narrative pushed by the cable lobby, immediately breaking these promises, regardless of their original intentions, would almost certainly draw the attention of the general public. What we can be certain of is that ISPs will be gradually introducing minor, seemingly-innocuous changes and additional charges throughout 2018 in a manner similar to the proliferation of microtransactions in the AAA video game industry. In addition, Comcast cannot begin to throttle traffic through their servers until September 2018, so this process may drag on until 2019.
Any attempts to exploit the repeal in its immediate aftermath would also face a number of hurdles both in court and in Congress. First of all, a major lawsuit, initiated by New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman, has been filed against the FCC, taking issue with its handling of public comments on the repeal order. It’s widely acknowledged that millions of anti-net neutrality comments were submitted by bots using randomly-chosen names of US citizens without their knowledge or consent. Yet, the FCC has displayed seemingly zero intention of investigating these comments or even making comment logs available for public viewing. The aforementioned suit has since been joined by several other states including Massachusetts, California, Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, Washington, and Minnesota.
Along similar lines, freelance writer Jason Prechtel also filed a lawsuit in September under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) over the FCC’s refusal to make comments and other materials available to investigation. However, the current status of this suit is unclear.
Congress, which has oversight of the FCC, has also taken action against the repeal order. Senator Ed Markey (D-MA), along with 27 Senate co-sponsors, plans to introduce a Congressional Review Act which would “restore the Open Internet Order and reverse the [FCC]’s historic mistake of repealing [net neutrality],” according to his Twitter.
Furthermore, steps to protect net neutrality are already being taken in several pro-net neutrality states. In California and Washington, state senators and representatives have introduced acts to preserve net neutrality within their respective states. While their legal status is questionable as Republican FCC members claim that the reclassification of ISPs under Title I prevents states from regulating them, we are hopeful that these actions succeed and set precedents for other states to do the same.
Congressional action with regards to net neutrality is not entirely positive, however. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) has introduced an act into the House that appears to be worse than the FCC’s anti-net neutrality provisions. She and other Republicans claim that the act, titled the Open Internet Preservation Act (H.R. 4682), aims to prevent ISPs from throttling and blocking websites; however, its true effect belies its name. The bill would “limit the authority of the Federal Communications Commission and to preempt State law with respect to internet openness obligations,” preventing states or a future, pro-net neutrality FCC from ever enforcing Title II regulations. The bill actually even uses the exact same name as another pro-Title II bill introduced by Democratic congressmen in 2014, further adding to the shadiness.
Said bill appears to be similar to a House version of the Senate’s “Restoring Internet Freedom Act” (S.993), which I wrote about in May, a bill that was never actually voted on. It’s important to stay vigilant about such acts that claim to protect us, but in reality are intended to strip our rights away.
Keep Our Net Free is committed to fighting for a free and open internet. We are currently working with other pro-net neutrality groups both within and outside of Reddit to coordinate an organized response to the FCC’s corporate-sponsored repeal of net neutrality. We’re also working to create a game centered around net neutrality in the style of Papers, Please; you can check out its progress here.
We’re committed to the battle to protect your internet rights, and will have more for you in the future. If you’d like to contribute to the ongoing legal battle against the FCC, please donate to organizations like Fight For the Future, ACLU, EFF, and the Free Press. If you wish to help us, message the subreddit mods or join our Discord; any skills you may have are appreciated. It’s still not too late to prevent ISPs from taking advantage of our internet.