For the last few weeks, internet users across the globe have rallied in a massive push against the vote to change net neutrality, but alas, it was not enough. In a narrow vote, the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of changing the way ‘net neutrality’ was governed, threatening to weaken one of the biggest cornerstones of the digital era: the right to use data freely.
From a technical standpoint, broadband internet was reclassified from being an information service to telecommunications, but the ramifications are significant since it means the FCC will no longer directly regulate ISPs (internet service providers) and will instead hand authority over to the FTC or Federal Trade Commission. The vote doesn’t instantly eliminate net neutrality but it represents a worrying step towards that direction.
The FCC ruled that ISPs will now be able to speed up or slow down different companies’ data and charge consumers according to the services they access. However, if they do so, they will first have to disclose such practices to the FTC whether they block data, throttle it or offer to prioritize traffic.
They argued net neutrality was bad for businesses, especially the new set of rules and guidelines set in place by President Obama. FCC chairman Ajit Pai stated that loosening restrictions on net neutrality would allow ISPs to invest in faster connections in rural areas and will foster innovation.
However, campaigners have long argued that throwing out net neutrality will enrich a few while doing harm to millions of ordinary people. They argue that the FTC has no power to stop ISPs from blocking or slowing data and that stopping such behavior could take years. The weakening of net neutrality will be particularly harmful to smaller companies who will either have to join with the larger companies or go bankrupt, effectively creating a monopoly of data.
Furthermore, they argue that rather than investing in new broadband connections, ISPs will simply charge users for data that they already receive for free. With this new ruling, America threatens to turn into a larger version of Portugal where people are forced to pay a subscription fee just to access Youtube or Facebook. If you enjoy a certain product that your ISP doesn’t like, then don’t be surprised if your internet slows down to a crawl.
However, lawsuits are already being prepared by opponents to the motion, led by New York’s attorney general Eric Schneiderman. Campaigners are still rallying their resources, refusing to accept this vote as a total defeat while those in Congress who spoke against the vote seek to put legislation in place to delay the decision.
A key battle has been lost, but the fight for free data is far from over.