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Say goodbye to net neutrality as you know it

Although the rules have expired, some internet providers and state governments are still fighting for consumers

Photo (c) theasis - Getty Images
Consumers can pretty much kiss net neutrality goodbye. The Obama-era "Open Internet Order" ended Monday and the "Restoring Internet Freedom Order" took over.

Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai originally introduced the Restoring Internet Freedom Order in December, and it passed by a single vote of the FCC’s commissioners. Congress tried to overturn the order but came up short.

Net neutrality levied heavy regulations on internet service providers (ISP) by requiring them to treat all internet traffic the same. It prevented ISPs from charging more for access to certain content or stifling the speed at which content was delivered.

"In place of that heavy-handed framework, the FCC is returning to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015," wrote the FCC in a press release. "Moreover, the FCC today also adopted robust transparency requirements that will empower consumers as well as facilitate effective government oversight of broadband providers’ conduct."

Who wins and who loses?

For an ISP, the repeal of net neutrality is like winning the lottery. With the new law in place, these companies have the authority to decide what content consumers can access, plus reap the financial rewards of that control.

For the consumer, it’s a different story. Net neutrality ensured a level playing field where everyone had access to the same internet services and experiences. Now, given the fact that there’s only one major broadband provider is more than half of the United States, those sole providers can dictate what a consumer pays, the content they can get, and the speed at which they get it.

There’s no way to foretell the future, but the FCC has shown that its viewpoint on the internet can shift from one administration to another.

"Net neutrality was essential for our economy; it was essential to preserve freedom and openness, both for economic reasons and free speech reasons," said Julius Genachowski, FCC commissioner in the Obama administration.

All is not lost

There appears to be a few ISPs riding into this battle wearing a white hat. Take Comcast for example. David L. Cohen, Comcast’s Senior Executive Vice President, went on record saying that this change is not the end of net neutrality.

“Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our Internet service is not going to change. Comcast customers will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period," he said.

States and communities can still have a say in this matter, too. New York governor Andrew Cuomo took a stand for the little guy and signed an executive order stating that "the Internet is an essential service that should be available to all New Yorkers." With that order, Cuomo banned New York State's government from entering into any agreement with an ISP unless that ISP agreed to the fundamentals of net neutrality.

Several other governors -- including Washington, Montana, Vermont, New Jersey, and Hawaii -- have also signed executive orders to preserve net neutrality rules and an additional 30+ states have proposed legislation that would keep those rules in place.

On top of those efforts, there are 22 state attorneys general who’ve come together to block the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality.

At the grassroots level, the activist group Fight for the Future has nearly 25,000 signatures in a petition asking legislators to defend net neutrality and "protect the free and open Internet for generations to come."

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