The United States Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines on 14 December 2017 to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order which protects net neutrality in the United States.
The proposal put forth by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was approved in a 3-2 vote, at a highly anticipated meeting that was held in Washington DC. The voting process saw three Republican commissioners in favour and two Democrat commissioners against. The move is aimed at ensuring a free and open internet.
Net neutrality requires all internet service providers (ISPs) to treat all data equally, without blocking or censoring services or websites.
Impact of the decision
The repeal of net neutrality marks a huge victory for the internet service providers, as it hands them power over what content consumers can access.
The move will give ISPs greater power to limit internet access while favouring certain data streams.
According to Ajit Pai, the 2015 rules stifled competition and innovation among service providers. “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia,” he said.
Critics of the move
The Democrats along with many tech giants including Google parent Alphabet Inc and Facebook had urged Pai to keep the Obama-era rules, which stopped the internet service providers from blocking certain content or slowing access to it or charging more.
The new rules will give internet service providers sweeping powers to change how consumers access the internet.
According to a Democrat commissioner, the decision grants internet providers with extraordinary new powers to discriminate and manipulate internet traffic.
Fear of small start-ups
The smaller start-ups worry that with the withdrawal of net neutrality, there would be no restrictions on actions taken by service providers, which could drive up costs or lead to their content being blocked.
The Internet service providers on the other hand state that they will not block legal content but may engage in paid prioritization. They argued saying that the largely unregulated internet functioned well in the two decades before the 2015 order.
When will the rules take effect?
According to the FCC, the rules would take effect in a few months after a formal approval from the White House Office of Management and Budget.
The Democrats, however, are planning to introduce a resolution to undo the FCC action and restore the net neutrality rules.
What is net neutrality?
Net neutrality basically means that the Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet in the same manner and not discriminate or charge any user, content, website or application differently.
The rules aim to give consumers equal access to web content and prevent broadband providers from favouring their own content.
Under these principles, the internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.