By Brandi Buchman
WASHINGTON – Monday marks the end of net neutrality, the Obama-era policy that required internet service providers to treat all internet traffic as equal.
The repeal of the 2015 regulation was approved by a deeply divided Federal Communications Commission last year, with chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, casting the deciding vote.
Since then, more than two dozen states have sued the FCC or proposed their own internet regulations to reinstate the neutrality rules.
In Congress, Democratic lawmakers, led by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., have made several attempts to block or roll back the FCC decision.
In May, all Senate Democrats plus three Republicans — Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, John Kennedy of Louisiana, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska – voted 52-47 passing a resolution which reversed the FCC’s repeal.
But their resolution only reinstated rules temporarily, ultimately leaving the final decision up to a vote in the House of Representatives.
While portions of the old net neutrality rules went into effect immediately following the Senate vote in May, the bulk of the rollback’s stipulations required final approval from the Office of Management and Budget, or OMB, no later than June 11.
Without traction in the House and no changes at the OMB, the bid to preserve net neutrality died.
As a result of the FCC action, the Federal Trade Commission is now responsible for enforcing regulations on companies that violate consumer rights or run afoul of antitrust laws online.
Pai and his Republican colleagues at the FCC argue that the new oversight regime is more efficient than the system employed by the Obama administration.
The FTC already oversees antitrust regulations and this would simply streamline that, they’ve argued.
Opponents of the reversal say putting the FTC in charge of net neutrality is ineffectual for that same reason: the sheer volume of work the commission already faces when it comes to regulatory enforcement is daunting.
And unlike the FCC, the FTC doesn’t have any formal rulemaking authority.
That means the FTC can only enforce whatever voluntary promises companies make to them while monitoring for more general antitrust violations.
“Ajit Pai’s absurd repeal of basic free speech protections is the most unpopular decision in the history of the FCC, and it will not stand,” said Evan Greer, deputy director at Fight for the Future, a non-profit which advocates for an open internet.
“Starting today, there is nothing legally preventing companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from arbitrarily censoring entire categories of apps, sites, and online services, or charging Internet users expensive new fees to access them,” she said.
Greer also said she doesn’t think ISPs would “start misbehaving right way,” but thinks that over time, “the internet as we know it will wither and die.”
“The web will be dominated by a handful of the largest platforms who can afford pay to play fees, squeezing out independent voices and innovative ideas. We’ll lose all the cool, weird, controversial, and unexpected stuff that makes the Internet awesome, and one of the most important tools we have to combat tyranny and expose corruption,” she added.
“Today is the day that the Trump Administration’s decision to restrict Americans’ access to the internet goes into effect,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
“The U.S. House of Representatives had the opportunity to ensure that Americans continued to have unfettered access to the internet by voting down the Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of net neutrality rules. But it went AWOL,” Becerra said.
“As a result of this inaction, starting today internet service providers have the power to force websites to pay fees for faster internet speeds and limit consumers’ ability to access the internet content of their choice,” he said. “In this 21st century global economy, access to a free and open internet is imperative. It has become a hallmark of our American society.
“Earlier this year, we joined a coalition of 23 Attorneys General in suing the FCC over its illegal repeal of net neutrality rules,” Becerra said. “We will continue to see that case through in the court of law, and we will continue to support efforts in California that would allow us to defend our vibrant internet economy and consumer choice.”
Only one aspect of the 2015 Open Internet Order remains in place: transparency.
A holdover from the 2015 order, the transparency rule forces broadband providers to disclose how they manage their networks to the FCC.
So if and when an ISP slows down or blocks access to its site or enforces paid prioritization services, they must report that to the commission.