Since the internet became a mainstream utility, it has become intertwined in the daily lives of countless Americans.
The way people receive news, communicate with others, work, shop, and more has all been changed by online connectivity. But the importance of the internet has given way to concerns about how internet service providers (ISPs) could use this dependence for their own financial gain.
The concerns are split among those who believe that a handful of companies have monopolized the industry, and those who think giving regulators more power would cause the internet to lose what makes it special.
Companies have noted that certain sites which get more traffic (such as prominent social media sites, for example) cost them more in terms of equipment and bandwidth. This led to the companies considering different pricing packages and costs depending on what sites a customer chooses to access.
While a reasonable concern from an economic standpoint, this possibility raised further concerns about how companies could use this power for their own benefit. Namely, they could refuse to provide connectivity to sites that criticize them or the people/businesses they support. This could contribute further to the monopolization of the industry.
Net neutrality aimed to stop those latter possibilities from emerging. Passing during the Obama administration with the aim of keeping the internet ‘free, open, and equal,’ net neutrality has been a controversial topic since its inception. Now the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality.
Net neutrality classified the internet as a basic utility, and set limitations on how ISPs could set prices and what they could include (or exclude) from their service packages. The repeal has supporters of net neutrality worried that the masses will now be at the mercy of a handful of large telecommunications companies.
With the partisan vote repealing the protections, ISPs are now free from restrictions that would stop them from blocking websites or offering faster services to those who can pay more money.
The repeal isn’t expected to go off without a hitch. Lawsuits will likely come pouring in, as many concerned parties already threatened such a measure if net neutrality was repealed.
While there are plenty of worries and bleak scenarios being painted by proponents of net neutrality, it is worth noting that the internet saw most of its flourishing and growth without these protections in place. Based on patterns of regulatory controls in the past, the measure could end up giving the government more power to regulate ISPs in the future. This would undoubtedly invite lobbyists and special interest groups to shape the internet for everyone.
The high-stakes meeting debating the repeal was interrupted by security, who cleared the room to search it with police dogs. It is not clear what the threat was at the time, but more details may emerge at a later date. It is also likely the net neutrality debate will continue in court for months and even years to come.