By: Tristan Mabee
As of December 15, 2017, the FCC voted 3-2 to end network (net) neutrality. Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs) shouldn’t be allowed to slow down certain types of data based on their preferences. For example, if a certain ISP, say Comcast, wished to purposely slow down data from a service, like Netflix, net neutrality exists to stop that from happening. Furthermore, net neutrality prevents said ISP from slowing down the data speed of the consumer when accessing a site, hiding a site behind a paywall, or restricting access to a site altogether. In short, net neutrality means that a network that provides a public service can’t discriminate against information by halting, slowing, or otherwise tampering with the transfer of any data, except for legitimate network management purposes such as easing congestion or blocking spam (definition from the ACLU).
FCC chairman Ajit Pai led the decision to repeal the rules imposed by the Obama-era FCC. These rules state that internet service is considered a public utility and prevents the use of tiered service systems by ISPs, encouraging net neutrality via governmental oversight. As soon as Ajit Pai was elected chairman, his main goal was to repeal net neutrality. He succeeded. Currently, the repeal is not set to go into effect until late spring.
According to a recent University of Maryland poll, 83% of Americans stated they favored keeping the 2015 regulations. Many Americans, both Republican and Democrat, simply didn’t want the vote to happen at all. Now that it has, legislators are moving forward with plans to combat the decision. On January 16th, 21 states, along with several advocacy groups, brought forward a lawsuit against the FCC to overturn the net neutrality repeal. With the support of Susan Collins (R - Maine), Democrat Senators are one vote shy of the 51 votes necessary to overrule the repeal of net neutrality. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress 60 days from the FCC’s decision to overturn it.
Before the vote, Pai gave a speech outlining his views of the net neutrality repeal, saying, “Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy. There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open Internet. This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again.” However, some have criticized Pai for his combative attitude and failure to help Americans reach any strong agreement on this issue. For example, Pai ignored well thought-out comments on the FCC website and instead read and made fun of “mean tweets” for a conservative news outlet.
This is far from the first time Americans have had to ask whether or not net neutrality and, by extension, more governmental oversight, is a good thing. On this occasion, most Americans seem to be in agreement that it is.