In a move that is as frustrating as it was predictable, the Federal Communications Commission has voted to move forward with chairman Ajit Pai's plan to reverse the Obama-era net neutrality guidelines that were set forth in 2015's Open Internet Order.
Before discussing this matter any further, it is important to understand what net neutrality really is because plenty of people, including the president of the United States, have displayed a lack of understanding regarding this term.
Net neutrality basically means that ISPs must treat all internet traffic as equals. If your ISP is Comcast then Comcast isn't allowed to slow down traffic to Netflix in order to entice users to buy a cable package from it.
Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2014
The Open Internet Order
Pai's plan would call for the FCC to repeal the 2015 rule, which declared internet service providers to be common carriers under the Title II of the Telecommunications Act. The FCC has a much broader authority to regulate Title II carriers than it does over those that fall under Title I which, prior to 2015, included ISPs.
The 2015 ruling gave the FCC clear authority to regulate ISPs and force them to comply with net neutrality guidelines. Pai's plan would roll back this classification, which could result in ISPs being once again placed under the much weaker Title I regulations.
Additionally, Pai is seeking comment on the so-called "bright line," which bars ISPs from throttling, blocking, or prioritizing certain internet traffic. While Pai hasn't laid out the specifics of his proposal, the fact that he's willing to revisit them at all suggests that they may be greatly weakened, if not completely eliminated, in the coming months.
For his part, Pai insists that the reaction to net neutrality is overblown, saying that the internet was fine prior to 2015.
"We were not living in a digital dystopia," says Pai. "Nonetheless, the FCC that year succumbed to partisan pressure from the White House and changed course."
How This Affects You
As of now, the details surrounding Pai's plan are vague, but the implications are clear. If his proposed policies are approved, then net neutrality, as we understand it today, may not exist within a few months. We could, theoretically, see ISPs slowing down content from certain sites while speeding it up for others in exchange for payments.
What You Can Do About It
The FCC is currently taking comments on its website so you can let it know where you stand on the issue of net neutrality. The process is a bit involved so let's break it down.
1. Go to the listing for the "Restoring Internet Freedom" proposal and then select "+Express" - this will allow you to leave a comment. If you want to add pictures or attachments, you can use the "New Filing" option.
2. Submit your comment and then press "Continue to review screen," at which point you'll be able to submit your comment to the FCC.
Your second option is, of course, to call your congressional representative and give them your thoughts of net neutrality, as it is likely we'll see new legislation regarding this matter in the coming months.