It’s official: The repeal of net neutrality took effect on June 11.
The Federal Communications Commission narrowly voted to dismantle the Obama-era Internet regulations in December. The rules imposed utility-style regulations on Internet service providers (ISPs) and prevented them from favoring their own services or certain customers over that of competitors.
On Monday, the FCC touted the implementation of what it calls the “Restoring Internet Freedom Order,” saying the order “replaces unnecessary, heavy-handed regulations dating back to 1934 with strong consumer protections, increased transparency and common-sense regulations that will promote investment and broadband deployment.”
“The 2015 decision to impose these heavy-handed utility-style regulations on the Internet was a mistake,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a video, adding that the rules were a “solution in search of a problem.”
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel called the rollback “misguided” and “bad news” in a statement.
ISPs “will have the right to discriminate and favor the Internet traffic of those companies with whom they have pay-for-play arrangements and the right to consign all others to a slow and bumpy road,” she said in a statement.
“Plain and simple, thanks to the FCC’s rollback of net neutrality, Internet providers have the legal green light, the technical ability and business incentive to discriminate and manipulate what we see, read, and learn online.”
Prior to the rollback, nationwide protests were held as consumers worried cable and phone companies would suddenly have greater control over what they see and do online. But the broadband industry has promised users the Internet experience will not change.
In May, senators voted to restore net neutrality, but President Trump’s signature would be needed to bring back the regulations, and the House didn’t advance the legislation.
Here’s a look at what net neutrality is and how the FCC’s move could impact consumers nationwide.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality is the idea that ISPs must treat all legal Internet data the same — regardless of where it comes from or who it is going to.
Harold Feld, senior vice president with the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Public Knowledge, compared net neutrality to “an on-ramp to the internet,” meaning ISPs are “not allowed to interfere with what the subscriber wants to do or where the subscriber wants to go.”
Under net neutrality regulations, ISPs are not allowed to block or throttle — meaning slow down — websites or applications.
What did the FCC do?
Trump-appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai led the charge to repeal net neutrality regulations.
Pai, 45, said he believes net neutrality rules adopted during the Obama administration discourage ISPs from making investments in their network that would provide even better and faster online access.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement.
How could a full repeal impact consumers?
Repealing net neutrality regulations means consumers could start paying more for their Internet services, critics have said. Consumers could also see ISPs start to “bundle” services — such as certain websites or applications — and charge more depending on what a person wants access to, experts said.
“Right now, the FCC has designated [the Internet] as a telecommunications service — like a phone service, which includes all of the rules that apply to prevent [a company] from blocking or throttling or favoring one company over another,” Feld told Fox News ahead of the vote. “The real question, to some degree, is, Is the Internet going to work like the old telephone where you get to decide who you called and what you do or is it going to become more like cable?”
“If it’s one thing that cable companies have proven to be good at over the years, it’s more ways to get money out of consumers and into their own pockets,” he continued. “Primary broadband providers will take advantage of this to find new ways to charge customers if they want to get high quality service.”
Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the libertarian think tank Cato Institute, said broadband providers would “presumably … try some things consumers don’t like and others that prove to be popular.” But he dismissed the notion of predicting just what exactly providers would do should the regulations be scaled back.
“The truth is we won’t know until providers start experimenting: Presumably they’ll try some things consumers don’t like, and others that prove popular.”
“There’s plenty of scaremongering around steps broadband providers could take in the absence of neutrality regulation — blocking off certain sites, or charging extra fees to access certain services — but not a ton of reason to think they would do these things, which would antagonize customers, be technically tricky to enforce against sophisticated users, and invite the re-imposition of regulations,” Sanchez told Fox News.
“What’s more realistic is the introduction of plans that provide higher speeds for specific bandwidth-intensive services,” he said, pointing to streaming high-definition Netflix videos as an example of such a service. “Or, similarly, content providers might end up subsidizing higher-speed access to their services for subscribers who’ve only paid for slower all-purpose Internet access.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.