The End of an Era

On Tuesday, Nov. 21, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai announced a plan to remove net neutrality rules established during the Obama administration.

In 2015, the FCC adopted rules that classified the internet as a “utility” service, similar to electricity and the telephone, under a telecommunications law called Title 2, dating back to 1934. Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers have to treat all data on the internet as equal. They are not allowed to discriminate or charge differently by “user content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication.”

Under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.

AT&T called the Obama-era rules “an unprecedented regulatory overreach for which there is no economic or marketplace justification.”

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them.”

Internet service providers, such as AT&T and Comcast, and economists believe the decision will be good for the economy by catering to consumer demands, eliminating price regulations and allowing competition on the cyber markets.

Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon however, are worried that the repeal of the net neutrality rules will limit their access to users and consumers and diminish their profits by having open access to all internet users.

Industry analysts identify a weakness in the competition argument, in that in some markets, such as regional and rural areas, individuals may only have one internet provider available to them.

Some internet service providers, like Charter, say that they voluntarily adhere to net neutrality principles, and will continue to do so. In a statement, the company said, “We do not block, throttle, or otherwise interfere with the online activity of our customers.”

The repeal plan goes further than the roll back of the Obama-era rules, by permitting internet service providers to block media content.

If the repeal goes through, which is currently scheduled for a vote at a Dec. 14 meeting, it will treat the internet as an “information service.” This classification will essentially make the internet like a cable package. Users would purchase a basic package and could be charged extra for access to popular sites or for faster speeds.

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