December 15, 2017 By FTI Consulting
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), led by Republican Chairman Ajit Pai, voted along party lines to repeal Obama-era regulations on Net Neutrality. The regulations had required internet service providers (ISPs) to provide network access on equal terms to all users, and specifically prevented providers from engaging in the practice of either blocking or slowing online content.
The agency also voted to eliminate the legal foundation that gives the FCC oversight over ISPs. Under the new rules, ISPs can engage in such activity – yet must report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), who will be charged with policing broadband companies’ actions – and individual states will be prohibited from enacting their own laws because they would be superseded by federal authority.
In sum, the era of understanding and treating the internet as a public utility in the United States is over – at least, for now.
In the months leading up to the decision, companies providing internet access via their existing infrastructures had championed efforts to repeal the 2015 ruling, highlighting to regulators and legislators the potential to use increased revenues to invest in and expand their broadband networks and services.
Contrarily, content providers supported the Obama-era rules, arguing that allowing companies to impose uneven restrictions on access to this infrastructure, or restricting certain types of content, fundamentally undermines a free and open internet. And consumers overwhelmingly share this concern: one survey from a nonpartisan polling organization concluded that 83% of Americans did not approve of the FCC proposal to repeal Net Neutrality.
Ultimately, our view is that the debate on Net Neutrality is far from over, and if anything, the actions by the FCC will serve to galvanize the resolve of every key stakeholder, from consumers to corporations, when it comes to how, and to what degree, we approach the regulations for what is arguably the most critical infrastructure to the future of United States – and the world.
This is a crucial conversation, and the process of coming to a fair and useful consensus about how internet access must be regulated (or not) to meet the needs of companies and consumers, as well as keep the promise this transformational technology offers, will have to be undertaken now. Stakeholders on all sides of the debate need to convene and communicate their positions with policy makers, regulators, and the public, to ensure that we arrive in a place where the internet works for everyone.