For the past few years, much of the conversation regarding the future of the internet has centered around the issue of net neutrality. The policy is designed to prevent ISPs from speeding up, slowing down, or outright blocking content based on their own preferences in an effort to keep the internet open for all customers. Given its implicit relationship to free speech, the issue has naturally worked its way into the political dialogue, with supporters and detractors of this principle on both sides of the political spectrum. Recently, the White House announced plans that will once again threaten this policy, causing renewed interest in the issue.
Net neutrality returned to the national spotlight after a plan announced by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) contained new guidelines that would roll back protection put in place by the Obama administration. Ajit Pai, Trump’s pick to serve as Chairman of the FCC, has openly stated several times his intention to undo the rules that establish net neutrality, so the new policy hardly comes as a surprise. Pai’s goal is to stop what he sees as federal authorities “micromanaging the Internet,” and is in line with moves towards deregulation that form a significant part of the base of the current administration’s economic platform.
The proposed plan is supported by both conservatives and the ISPs themselves, as these companies would have more freedom to control and price access to content under the new policy. The FCC’s plan would also require these ISPs to maintain transparency by revealing details about blocked or slowed content, along with those that receive better bandwidth allocation, on a dedicated website accessible by customers. Furthermore, the legislation will empower the Federal Trade Commission to levy fines against those that deviate from the transparency requirements, thereby removing some responsibility from the FCC.
Internet users and content providers alike have decried the move as against the very spirit of the internet as a free speech platform. Search engine giant Google released a statement saying that the current net neutrality policies in place have functioned perfectly well for customers and that the proposed changes were “disappointing.”
Analysts are also exploring how the repeal could impact AT&T, who is currently involved in a legal dispute to purchase Time Warner. This merger, combined with the repeal of FCC guidelines, would dramatically change how the company markets its content. While AT&T and other companies stand to benefit from the proposed changes, internet users see little to gain, since there would be no legal protections against what content ISPs could choose to slow or block.