Monday, October 18, 2021

FCC votes to end net neutrality


In a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission repealed on Thursday the Obama-era rules that were specifically engineered to protect an open internet, the New York Times reports.

The change, which takes effect in a few weeks, could make it easier for broadband providers—such as cable companies—to set up networks of their own and offer consumers a wider array of choices in internet service. Critics, who have been many, including millions of Americans who commented on the proposed change officially, say the change will make it more difficult to bring internet service to some consumers because companies without deep pockets, such as start-ups, will have to pay those broadband providers a fee to reach consumers on faster internet lanes.

Proponents of the repeal, including 11-month FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, see the move as reducing the role of the federal government in regulating commerce. Opponents say the FCC has let the public down. They’re outraged, “because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers,” the Times quoted Mignon Clyburn, one of the two Democratic commissioners, as saying.

The change might affect some consumers, especially those in hard-to-reach places, like rural school districts, since competition among providers is likely to have little influence on the types of internet service customers in those areas can choose. But the biggest impact is expected to fall upon internet companies that won’t pay the fees broadband providers are likely to charge them in order to make service from their sites faster to that provider’s customers.

For example, Netflix or YouTube, which stream video to customers over whatever network those customers are on, might be asked to pay fees to each of those networks—Comcast, for example—in order for Comcast to stream video from their sites at rates that don’t result in constant buffering. Comcast may have its own video streaming service, though, and may, under non-neutrality, give faster access to video streaming from its own company’s site in order to make customers choose it.

Under net neutrality, such a fee or preference for content from one site over another would have been illegal, as it obviously shoots competition among movie streaming companies in the foot. But now, this is going to be the way it happens. We’re going to be monitoring the effect this move has on schools very closely, but at this point, depending on how many content providers pony up, the results are unpredictable. Voxitatis, I’m sorry to say, will not be paying for faster lanes on the internet (our content isn’t as big as a video).

But every decision coming out of the Trump administration is one that seems to cut the heart out of progress, especially in science and technology, and I hope for more people to stand up at some point to say enough is enough. Attorneys general in New York and Washington state have already voiced strong opposition to the repeal.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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