The Federal Communications Commission has voted in favour of reviewing “net neutrality” rules that require internet service providers to treat all data equally, without blocking, throttling or paid prioritisation of traffic. Once again data discrimination has become a hot topic and it is unlikely to be resolved soon.
FCC commissioners voted 2-1 along party lines to review and reverse the regulation imposed during the previous administration in a move it calls “Restoring Internet Freedom”.
In a notice of proposed rulemaking, the FCC says it would return to the classification of broadband internet access as an information service rather than a utility, return to the classification of mobile broadband internet access as a private mobile service, remove so-called Title II regulation and implement a light-touch regulatory framework, among other measures.
The FCC has opened a 90-day public consultation. The call for comments is expected to attract a large response. During the previous consideration of net neutrality over four million comments were submitted, mainly in support of strict regulation. The FCC has since been bombarded with comments, some of which are reported to have been generated automatically.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the decision would be based on a credible cost-benefit analysis. “We will rely not on hyperbolic statements about “the end of the Internet as we know it” and 140-character commentary, but on the data.”
His Republican colleague, Commissioner Mike O’Rielly, said: “Thankfully, our rulemaking proceeding is not decided like a Dancing With The Stars contest, since counts of comments submitted have only so much value.”
Dissenting Democrat Commissioner Mignon Clyburn called on Americans to “stand up, make their voices heard and challenge the FCC in court, because it is glaringly obvious, with each open meeting, that the willingness and the ability of the majority to protect consumers and competition in a broadband era, has come to a screeching halt.”
The implications are significant for the development of online video services. The principle of network neutrality should prevent data discrimination by internet service providers who might otherwise restrict traffic from some sources or prioritise traffic from others. In practice, it tends to be complicated by commercial relationships in any case.
It is a contentious issue that could ultimately end up in court or in Congress, so is unlikely to be decided soon.