Washington, DC - Net Neutrality is officially over. Despite 11th hour efforts by activists, advocates and a handful of lawmakers, the FCC’s decision to overturn the 2015 Obama Administration rule is now final.
We’ve covered the debate over Net Neutrality in the past, but now that everything has been finalized let’s hash out exactly what the change means and what impacts it might have on the average American internet user.
What was Net Neutrality?
Put simply, Net Neutrality was a guideline that prevented Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from giving preferential treatment to some websites and services over others. Basically, the Net Neutrality rules prevented ISPs from creating internet fast lanes for companies and customers that were willing to pay a premium while restricting the rest of the internet to a more pedestrian slow lane.
There’s been a lot of attention paid to Net Neutrality over the past year or so as Ajit Pai and the FCC have sought to overturn the rule – we took a fairly strong position on it, too – but now it’s time to be realistic and level-headed.
The internet isn’t over.
This wasn’t a death blow.
Net Neutrality was a casualty of the culture war that is American politics.
Some Truth about Net Neutrality
Let’s start with why Net Neutrality was unpopular with the party currently in power, the US Republican party. While some may tell you they opposed Net Neutrality because they are categorically opposed to regulation, that’s a fairly silly point to make. Repealing Net Neutrality actually hands more oversight of the ISPs to the Federal Trade Commission, which had its authority over the ISPs stripped by the original rule. No, the real reason Net Neutrality was largely unpopular on the right is because it’s a legacy of the Obama administration and repealing it represented just one more way to undermine the 44th president, who is still wildly unpopular to many conservatives.
The left deserves criticism here, too. Rather than offer any kind of substantive counterpoint, the left has just parroted doomsday talking points and helped to further entrench this as a partisan issue, which only cemented the victory for the right.
Regardless of what side of the debate you may have been on, stop and read this quote by Ajit Pai. It’s all factual:
“The United States is simply making a shift from pre-emptive regulation, which foolishly presumes that every last wireless company is an anti-competitive monopolist, to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure or anti-competitive conduct.”
While you’ll have to forgive Pai for his charitable take on the competitive ethics of US wireless companies, he is correct that the ISPs had yet to attempt the practices that Net Neutrality banned at the time it was implemented. And many legal experts would agree with Pai that the ISPs probably won’t rush to do it now with the rules repealed becauseit both plays into the legal strategy of the opposition and would likely also face a market backlash.
Chances are nothing will change for you
While it’s definitely sensational to have a “Net Neutrality is here” headline (which is absolutely why we did it, too), odds are that it will have very little impact on your day-to-day life.
As we just covered, don’t expect the ISPs to rush to change anything given the highly political nature of the FCC’s decision to repeal Net Neutrality and the possible backlash that would come with being the first to rock the boat.
But beyond that, there is still oversight in place to try and curb anti-competitive behavior. The FTC now has authority over ISPs again and already 29 different states have seen legislative action aimed at ensuring many of the principles embodied by Net Neutrality continue to exist.
Frankly, if there’s an anti-competitive part of the internet that desperately needs redress it’s likely the advertising platforms like Facebook and Google that have shown the ability to influence national elections and decimate entire industries.
Net Neutrality is gone and we definitely need to be a little more vigilant about protecting our access and rights on the internet. But the sky isn’t falling. The internet isn’t over.
It’s going to be OK.