In a three-to-two party-line vote, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) repealed net neutrality rules put in place by the Obama administration in 2015 and that repeal, despite massive, nation-wide objection, went into effect on 11 June 2018.
We have discussed this often enough in these pages that you probably know what net neutrality is all about. But just in case, the idea at its most basic is that before this vote, internet providers could not, for example, block websites they don't like or slow down load time of websites whose owners have not paid a fee for speedier service.
Now they can do that along with pretty much anything else they can think up to charge more and/or control access to information.
Rolling Stone notes that now,
”...service providers have carte blanche to strike deals with powerful Internet companies. A company like Amazon, for instance, could pay service providers to make their content stream faster, thus making it more appealing to consumers than its competitors.
“Any company looking to game the system is now able to do so, and those whose pockets aren't so deep are now at a marked disadvantage.”
The FCC repealed the common-sense, net neutrality rules despite unprecedented public approval of it. As The Hill reports (emphasis is mine):
”Americans like net neutrality. Surveys have consistently shown that a majority of Republicans, Democrats, and Independents all support the 2015 net neutrality rules.
“For example, one survey from April found that 82 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats opposed the FCC’s move to repeal the rules, echoing similar numbers from other surveys, including those funded by the cable industry.
Most technology reporters I've read are pessimistic about the chances of reversing the net neutrality repeal. State of the Art columnist at The New York Times, Farhad Manjoo, goes further:
”As I’ve noted often in the last few years, big companies have been crushing small ones over and over again for much of the last decade,” he wrote on the day repeal took effect.
“One lesson from everything that has happened online recently — Facebook, the Russians and Cambridge Analytica; bots and misinformation everywhere — is that, in the absence stringent rules and enforcement, everything on the internet turns sour. Removing the last barriers to unfair competition will only hasten that process.
“It’s not going to be pretty.”
Nevertheless, there is strong pushback from a majority of states. In a variety of forms, more than 30 are producing their own net neutrality legislation. Here is a map of those efforts from the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI). The legend in the main image is too small to easily read so here is a larger version of it:
Follow this link and scroll down to view details of the efforts in the states.
It is not clear that all these attempts to restore net neutrality locally are legal or that all will succeed. Some of those some states and a few others are suing the FCC over net neutrality. Here is that map:
The Times reporter, Farhad Manjoo, spoke with one of the two Democratic commissioners at the FCC:
“'History shows us that companies that have the technical capacity to do things, the business incentive to do them and the legal right — they will take advantage of what is made available to them,' said Jessica Rosenworcel, an F.C.C. commissioner and a Democrat, who voted against the repeal of net neutrality last year.
“'Now they can block websites and censor online content,' Ms. Rosenworcel said. 'That doesn’t make me feel good — and if you rely on the internet to consume or create, it shouldn’t make you feel good, either.'”
Also, there are continuing efforts in the House of Representatives to restore net neutrality. You can add your name here.
It is easy in such circumstances as this to feel impotent. But it takes only a small amount of effort and it couldn't hurt to telephone your representative or at least, send an email. You can get that information here.