Published: Wed, June 13, 2018
Business | By Tara Barton

Net neutrality is no more. Here's what that means

Net neutrality is no more. Here's what that means

The controversial repeal of Obama-era net neutrality protections is officially set to take effect on Monday, despite ongoing efforts from members of Congress, state officials, tech companies and advocacy groups to save the rules.

But a battle for votes in the House remains. The measure already passed the Senate.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 to repeal the Obama-era rules in December in what was seen as a major victory for Republicans who had pledged to scrap the rules.

"I don't think anything gets better for consumers", said FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat.

The now-defunct rules required companies that provided internet service to consumers to abide by a series of rules that prevented them from blocking lawful websites, manipulating internet speeds or striking deals with companies like Google and Facebook for so-called "internet fast lanes". ISPs formerly made the case that net neutrality failed to allow them to recoup the costs incurred in linking their networks to content providers, often citing Netflix, which consumes a double-digit percentage of all Internet traffic in the United States during peak hours.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the new rules, known as "Restoring Internet Freedom Order", will provide unrestricted access to online content, minus the burden or regulation. Moving forward, the FCC no longer has the full authority to police bad behavior by broadband monopolies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast, thanks to the Trump FCC's decision to gut classification of ISPs as common carriers.

In May, congress overturned the repeal with a bipartisan vote in the Senate. Almost 50 more House lawmakers must sign a discharge petition introduced by Congressman Mike Doyle in order to force a vote. Supporters of net neutrality have also said that without regulation, a greater socio-economic digital divide could develop, creating a class of information "haves" and "have nots". "These positive and profound benefits of a free and open internet - among many others - are here to stay".

"Nothing will change the next day", says Kevin Werbach, an associate professor of legal studies at Wharton and former FCC adviser.

In the meantime, some ISPs have promised in the absence of the federal net neutrality rules to not slow data or block it, and with state laws in flux and a federal showdown possible, it's unlikely any would push the envelope at present.

"Those "fast lanes" will put those who won't or can not pay in the slow lane, making the internet look a lot like cable TV", Sohn says. Netflix's homepage displayed a classic buffering wheel along with a link to the Internet Association's website.

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