President Barack Obama famously said that elections have consequences. That self-evident reality will be proven once again as Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has set in motion a process aimed at ushering net neutrality out of existence.
Though it clearly takes the pro-net neutrality side of the argument, The Verge does a good job of describing the arguments for rescinding or severely limiting net neutrality as well as those for maintaining it.
Its proposal will be voted upon on December 14. The linchpin is reclassification that will regulate internet service providers under Title I of the Communications Act (as information services) instead of Title II (as common carriers). This change, a reversal of action taken by the Obama Administration's FCC under the direction of then Chairman Tom Wheeler, would drastically curtail the commission's oversight.
The basic arguments are simple: Those in favor of limiting control over ISPs are certain that the big players will take advantage of the many newly available options to thwart competition and squeeze money out of subscribers. The side advocating the changes maintains that the current rules hinder investment and efforts to extend broadband to rural and underserved areas. The drama is not really whether changes will be made. It is what consumer protection regulations, if any, will be left in place.
Today's announcement and the subsequent vote – which is a virtual certainty to be won by those favoring the spiking of net neutrality – are key moments in the battle. But they are not necessarily the end. Huffington Post last month posted a piece about an effort in Colorado to establish public alternatives to private ISPs. These networks presumably would uphold the tenets of net neutrality.
Wired notes that Congress could intervene and that Comcast and Verizon would welcome blocking and throttling prohibitions as long as they are not classified as common carriers. And, of course, there are the courts. Wired sees judicial action as a real possibility:
Before it is even approved, consumer groups are already preparing to challenge the new order in court. The Administrative Procedure Act bars federal agencies from making "arbitrary and capricious" decisions, in part to prevent federal regulations from yo-yoing every time a new administration is in court. Given the agency just defended the original net neutrality order in court last year, consumer groups may have a case that Pai's new order is capricious.
The battle over web access took a significant turn this week. It is nowhere near over, however. Indeed, regulatory issues are never truly settled simply because there is always a next election. Just ask Barack Obama and Tom Wheeler.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.