On December 14, 2017, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) and chairman Ajit Pai vote on the controversial move to repeal net neutrality rules that have been in place since 2015.
As we detailed in an earlier article, existing net neutrality rules ensure that your internet service provider (ISP) cannot manipulate your pipeline to the internet by gating off legal content or interfering with your Internet speed.
The reason ISPs cannot control that pipeline is the Internet’s classification under Title II in the Communications Act of 1934, making it a “common carrier” for communication purposes.
Pai and the FCC’s vote on the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal will likely weaken these net neutrality laws to deregulate much of the Internet.
The hope, at least for Pai, is that this will give smaller ISPs more of a chance to compete with larger companies.
However, consumers and small business owners are skeptical of this prospect. Many people feel that this move will invest more authority in already powerful ISPs to charge more money for access to legal content or throttle Internet speed if you use certain search engines.
How do small businesses feel about net neutrality?
Back in June, 40 smaller ISPs sent a letter to the FCC voicing their support for the current laws protecting neutrality. “Without a legal foundation to address the anticompetitive practices of the largest players in the market, the FCC’s current course threatens the viability of competitive entry and competitive viability,” they write.
On Monday, November 27, 2017, another group of Internet companies wrote a similar letter urging Pai to reconsider his position. Companies behind the letter include not only small Internet companies but also companies like Twitter, Pinterest and Reddit.
This decision could further impact smaller businesses that depend on Internet visibility for customers. Even small analog businesses depend on an open Internet to access or sell their services or products. Without net neutrality, larger competitors could easily buy faster lanes from ISPs to get more consumer traffic than smaller businesses.
What to expect if net neutrality ends?
If the vote this December repeals net neutrality laws, ISPs will be able to change how they do business. They could gate off content and services like Netflix, Facebook and Spotify by charging these companies additional internet access fees, which could make consumer prices rise.
There’s no guarantee ISPs would do this, of course, and many have released statements saying they won’t gate off legal content.
Comcast, for example, has written numerous times that the company will not discriminate against lawful content, though recent changes to this pledge suggest that the company may create paid “fast lanes” for their service.
While predictions of a post-vote internet are purely speculative, we can be sure that the repeal of net neutrality will be a long process.
Companies in favor of net neutrality can petition to review the FCC’s decision. If companies file lawsuits to review the decision, we could see a long legal battle before any final law is instated.
It’s hard to tell where the fate of net neutrality will ultimately be decided. Conceivably, the issue could be debated in the Court of Appeals or even the Supreme court if the fight lasts long enough.
So what can you do now?
The vote on December 14 may be one step among many to get rid of current net neutrality laws, but that does not mean it’s a trivial one.
In fact, Pai recently said that the number of comments the FCC received about net neutrality was so vast that he had to dismiss them outright, largely because some comments were likely the products of spambots and automated messages.
If you have strong feelings about net neutrality, let the FCC know how you feel about net neutrality by contacting your senators and representatives. Tell them that you support or don’t support net neutrality so that your voice can be heard.
You can contact the FCC directly by following this link. In the “Proceedings” box, type Restoring Internet Freedom (17-108). Then, you can make your comments below. They will be part of FCC’s records of this proceeding.