The Federal Communications Commission in the United States is proposing to remove most of the provisions for network neutrality. The draft order, which commissioners are expected to approve by 3-2 along party lines, effectively removes broadband providers from public utility regulation by the FCC. The previous regulations, introduced in 2015 under the Obama administration, prohibited broadband service providers from prioritising, throttling or blocking traffic.
The proposed order says that it would restore light-touch regulation, ending utility-style regulation of the internet, to promote future innovation and investment. Furthermore, it says it will increase competition and lead to better, faster, cheaper internet access for all Americans, especially those in rural and low-income areas.
It is hard to see how.
The ruling would restore the classification of internet access as an ‘information service’ and reinstate the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband internet access.
It means that broadband service providers will be able to charge companies like Netflix and Amazon to provide ‘fast lanes’ to deliver video over the top of their networks.
Communications companies could potentially charge customers tolls for access to tiers of service, as they currently do with cable television.
Internet service providers would have to disclose such practices, either through an easily accessible web site or by informing the FCC.
Many Americans are concerned, not so much about the implications for the likes of Netflix and Amazon but what it means for the entire internet ecosystem, at least in the United States.
Tim Wu, the Columbia law professor credited with coining the term ‘net neutrality’, suggests that the FCC may have overplayed its hand and the matter may end up being determined by the Supreme Court.