Lieff Cabraser Civil Justice Blog
FCC Vote Reverses Network Neutrality Protections

FCC Vote Reverses Network Neutrality Protections

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to repeal the net neutrality regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher-quality services and content. This action reverses 2015’s Open Internet Order set during the Obama administration.

“Network neutrality is the principle that the companies that sell access to the internet (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, etc.) don’t get the power to influence how people use the internet – for example, by discriminating in favor or against certain data based on who is sending or receiving it, its purpose, or its content,” explained the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

According to TechCrunch, “The order passed today, ‘Restoring Internet Freedom,’ essentially removes the FCC as a regulator of the broadband industry and relegates rules that prevented blocking and throttling content to the honor system.” Motherboard went further, posting the precise amounts of the $100+ million the telecom industry paid to individual members of Congress. Some representatives received over $1 million each.

With respect to the FCC itself, it was a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, with reviled Chairman Ajit Pai and Republican Commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly in favor of the order, and Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voting against it. “The move to deregulate the telecom and cable industry is a major setback for tech companies, consumer groups and Democrats who lobbied heavily against the decision,” noted The Washington Post.

The government’s 2015 net neutrality rules “sought to force Internet providers to treat all online services, large and small, equally,” as reported by The Washington Post. The new order, however, opens the gates for Internet providers to charge whatever they might want for different tiers of access and service.

With no network neutrality protections, the telecoms will be able to discriminate in how they treat data, blocking and throttling content. The new order will also result in paid prioritization, which could affect customers with higher services costs and limited access to what is available to them.

With the repeal of net neutrality protections, Internet providers are now legally permitted to give preferential treatment to sites they own or have a relationship with and discriminate against opponents. Consumer advocates have warned for months that this is almost certain to curtail the four fundamental freedoms all Internet users should have, including freedom to access any legal web content of their choice, freedom to use any online application, freedom to use their home broadband connections on any device, and freedom to get subscription information from providers.

Major internet commentary site Reddit noted in an administrative post from site founders, “It is disappointing that the FCC Chairman plowed ahead with his planned repeal despite [enormous] public concern, not to mention the objections expressed by his fellow commissioners, the FCC’s own CTO, more than a hundred members of Congress, dozens of senators, and the very builders of the modern internet.”