Your future internet experience now rests in the hands of the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to vote on Thursday to end rules requiring internet service providers to treat all traffic as equal.
The five members are expected to vote 3-2 along party lines to scrap Obama-era net neutrality rules, returning to a “light touch”approach and ending what Chairman Ajit Pai has called the federal government’s “micromanaging” of the internet.
“Prior to 2015, before these regulations were imposed, we had a free and open internet,” Pai told NBC News. “That is the future as well under a light touch, market-based approach. Consumers benefit, entrepreneurs benefit. Everybody in the internet economy is better off with a market based approach.”
The end of net neutrality rules will mark a huge victory for the big internet service providers. Depending on how they decide to act, the vote could have massive implications for the way you use the internet.
Timing of the vote
Net neutrality is one of seven items the FCC has on its agenda for the meeting, which is set to begin at 10:30 a.m. ET, according to Kate Black, spokeswoman for Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. It’s unclear whether net neutrality is the first item on the agenda. FCC meetings can last several hours, but Black said we can expect Chairman Pai and the commissioners to hold a press conference after the meeting.
The arguments for and against
In short, net neutrality rules treat the internet like a utility, helping to control what consumers are charged and ensuring there is no paid prioritization — where internet service providers would be free to create so-called fast and slow lanes, allowing them to choose whether to block or slow certain websites.
Many Silicon Valley giants support net neutrality rules and argue that without them, the internet service providers could become gatekeepers of information and ultimately hurt consumers.
— Twitter Public Policy (@Policy) December 12, 2017
Tech titans spoke out recently against the repeal: Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak; Vint Cerf, known as the “father of the internet”; Sir Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web; and 19 other technology pioneers all called the FCC’s plan “rushed and technically incorrect,” in a letter to the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation and the Internet.
Pai believes his move will spur innovation and investment, giving consumers more options when choosing an internet plan. This strategy would mean internet service providers would have to disclose through the FCC or on a publicly available website if they engage in practices such as throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization.
“These light touch market-based rules are the right way to go forward,” said Pai. “The best evidence of that is the 1.5 trillion dollars in network investment that we saw between 1996 and 2015.”
The vote doesn’t come without plenty of controversy. The public feedback period, which closed in August, included a record-breaking 22 million comments. Among those were fake comments, including two million that used stolen identities, according to a statement from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, whose office is investigating the process.
“As we’ve told the FCC: moving forward with this vote would make a mockery of our public comment process and reward those who perpetrated this fraud to advance their own hidden agenda. The FCC must postpone this vote and work with us to get to the bottom of what happened,” said Schneiderman.
When will you notice a change?
Other than the likely social media uproar, there won’t be any immediate changes to your internet experience.
“Realistically, I don’t think consumers are going to see much of a difference,” said Daniel Lyons, an associate professor of law at Boston College and a tech policy expert.
While the ramifications won’t be immediately felt, Commissioner Rosenworcel, who plans to vote against gutting net neutrality, warned there could be long-term consequences.
“What this proposal would do is it would give broadband providers the legal right and the power to start blocking websites, or censoring content if they don’t have a commercial relationship with that content. And so the open internet as we know it could change,” she told NBC News. “Perhaps not immediately, but over time. And I think that’s troubling.”