The Federal Communications Commission has formally released a draft of its plan to kill net-neutrality rules, which equalized access to the internet and prevented broadband providers from favoring their own apps and services.

Now the question is: What comes next?

Take a look at Portugal

Portugal similarly doesn’t have net neutrality, which gives internet providers a chance to split the internet into packages, as this one tweet from Ro Khanna, an academic and Silicon Valley entrepreneur.

Khanna, who advocated to save net neutrality, said that there’s an advantage for companies, but startups will struggle to get their content in front of people.

“(That’s) a huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people which stifles innovation,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is what’s at stake and that’s why we have to save net neutrality.”

Quartz further delved into the Portugal model, saying that the country’s “mobile internet is bundled like a cable package.”

Basically, Portugal offers customers data plans that are limited to specific apps. One might include social media apps, while others contain emailing and messaging apps. People would then have to pay more for faster internet, or certain apps and websites.

All this is to say telecom giants, like AT&T and Comcast, will emerge from winners of this fight. These companies have lobbied for a long time to end net neutrality, says Deseret News, which reported about Khanna’s conclusions.

On the other had, international communications consultant John Strand says the end of net neutrality will mean a return to free markets.

“Radical departure”

The FCC’s move will allow companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon to charge internet companies for speedier access to consumers and to block outside services they don’t like. The change also axes a host of consumer protections, including privacy requirements and rules barring unfair practices that gave consumers an avenue to pursue complaints about price gouging.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation. But many worry that his proposal will stifle small tech firms and leave ordinary citizens more at the mercy of cable and wireless companies.

“It would be a radical departure from what previous (FCC) chairs, of both parties, have done,” said Gigi Sohn, a former adviser to Tom Wheeler, the Obama-era FCC chairman who enacted the net neutrality rules now being overturned. “It would leave consumers and competition completely unprotected.”

During the last Republican administration, that of George W. Bush, FCC policy held that people should be able to see what they want on the internet and to use the services they preferred. But attempts to enshrine that net-neutrality principle in regulation never held up in court — at least until Wheeler pushed through the current rules now slated for termination.

Pai’s proposals stand a good chance of enactment at the next FCC meeting in December. But there will be lawsuits to challenge them.


What is net neutrality?

“Net neutrality” regulations, designed to prevent internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter from favoring some sites and apps over others, are on the chopping block. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican, last week unveiled a plan to undo the Obama-era rules that have been in place since 2015 .

Here’s a look at what the developments mean for consumers and companies.

  • WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?

Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and it’s pretty much how the internet has worked since its creation. But regulators, consumer advocates and internet companies were concerned about what broadband companies could do with their power as the pathway to the internet — blocking or slowing down apps that rival their own services, for example.

  • WHAT DID THE GOVERNMENT DO ABOUT IT?

The FCC in 2015 approved rules, on a party-line vote, that made sure cable and phone companies don’t manipulate traffic. With them in place, a provider such as Comcast can’t charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block it or slow it down.

The net neutrality rules gave the FCC power to go after companies for business practices that weren’t explicitly banned as well. For example, the Obama FCC said that “zero rating” practices by AT&T violated net neutrality. The telecom giant exempted its own video app from cellphone data caps, which would save some consumers money, and said video rivals could pay for the same treatment. Pai’s FCC spiked the effort to go after AT&T, even before it began rolling out a plan to undo the net neutrality rules entirely.

A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued.

  • WHAT TELCOS WANT

Big telecom companies say they don’t want the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules. They say the regulations can undermine investment in broadband and introduced uncertainty about what were acceptable business practices. There were concerns about potential price regulation, even though the FCC had said it won’t set prices for consumer internet service.

  • WHAT SILICON VALLEY WANTS

Internet companies such as Google have strongly backed net neutrality, but many tech firms have been more muted in their activism this year. Netflix, which had been vocal in support of the rules in 2015, said in January that weaker net neutrality wouldn’t hurt it because it’s now too popular with users for broadband providers to interfere.

  • WHAT HAPPENS NEXT

Pai distributed his alternative plan to other FCC commissioners Tuesday in preparation for a Dec. 14 vote. Although the FCC’s two Democrats said they will oppose the proposal, the repeal is likely to prevail as Republicans dominate 3-2. The vote for net neutrality in 2015 was also along party lines, but Democrats dominated then.

In the long run, net-neutrality advocates say undoing these rules makes it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests and will harm innovation. Those who criticize the rules say undoing them is good for investment in broadband networks.

Source: Associated Press


More details

The formal proposal reveals more details of the plan than were in the FCC’s Tuesday press release. For instance, if companies like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon decide to block a particular app, throttle data speeds for a rival service or offer faster speeds to companies who pay for it, they merely need to disclose their policies for doing so.

The FCC also says it will pre-empt state rules on privacy and net neutrality that contradict its approach. Verizon has noted that New York has several privacy bills pending, and that the California legislature has suggested coming up with its own version of net neutrality rules should the federal versions perish.

The plan would leave complaints about deceptive behavior and monitor privacy to the Federal Trade Commission, which already regulates privacy for internet companies like Google and Facebook.

Best behavior

Broadband providers are promising to be on their best behavior. Comcast said it doesn’t and won’t block, throttle or discriminate against lawful content. AT&T said that “all major ISPs have publicly committed to preserving an open internet” and that any ISP “foolish” enough to manipulate what’s available online for customers will be “quickly and decisively called out.” Verizon said that “users should be able to access the internet when, where, and how they choose.”

Some critics don’t put much weight on those promises, noting that many providers have previously used their networks to disadvantage rivals. For example, the Associated Press in 2007 found Comcast was blocking some file-sharing. AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services on its network on the iPhone until 2009.

But others suggest fear of a public uproar will help restrain egregious practices such as blocking and throttling. “I’m not sure there’s any benefit to them doing that,” said Sohn. “It’s just going to get people angry at them for no good reason. They don’t monetize that.”

Fast lanes, slow lanes

Sohn, however, suggests there’s reason to worry about more subtle forms of discrimination, such as “paid prioritization.” That’s a term for internet “fast lanes,” where companies that can afford it would pay AT&T, Verizon and Comcast for faster or better access to consumers.

That would leave startups and institutions that aren’t flush with cash, like libraries or schools, relegated to slower service, said Corynne McSherry, legal director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital-rights group. In turn, startups would find it harder to attract investors, Sohn said.

Michael Cheah, general counsel of the video startup Vimeo, said broadband companies will try to lay groundwork for a two-tiered internet — one where cash-strapped companies and services are relegated to the slow lane. To stay competitive, small companies would need to pony up for fast lanes if they could — but those costs would ultimately find their way to consumers.

The view is different at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank funded by Google and other established tech companies. Doug Brake, a telecom policy analyst at the foundation, said there’s little chance broadband companies will engage in “shenanigans,” given how unpopular they already are with the public.

Brake likewise played down the threat of internet fast lanes, arguing that they’ll only be useful in limited situations such as high-quality teleconferencing. Like the FCC, he argued that antitrust law can serve to deter “potentially anticompetitive” behavior by internet providers.