Did you access Facebook or Twitter with no problems this morning? Did you open a browser to search with no unusual delay? The end of net neutrality rules was supposed to mean doom and gloom for the internet, but as we've predicted, nothing has changed – or likely will.
Net neutrality rules, which control how broadband companies deliver services, were passed by the Obama Administration's Federal Communications Commissions (FCC) in 2015. The FCC under the Trump Administration voted to repeal these rules out of concern that expansion of broadband access suffered because of onerous net neutrality rules.
Today, June 11, those rules finally end and life as we know it will continue as it did before 2015 under a light regulatory touch.
What did net neutrality rules do?
Prohibited internet providers – think Comcast and Verizon – from blocking or slowing down websites and prioritizing their content over content from other websites. They also gave the FCC power to regulate broadband companies.
Did net neutrality cause harm?
It led to less investment in broadband access. According to the FCC, broadband network investment declined by $3.6 billion-—or more than 5 percent –during the first two years of the regulations, the first time investment declined outside of a recession. That means Americans in many areas like rural America have missed out on access to the internet because companies pulled back.
What do people fear will happen now?
The New York Times lays out all of the fears that the repeal of net neutrality will bring. They largely boil down to worry that broadband companies will now engage in anti-competitive practices such as blocking and slowing content or prioritizing their content above others. Senate Democrats, for example, claimed that the internet will slow to a crawl.
But there's little or no evidence that anti-competitive behavior warranted sweeping federal regulations.
What replaces net neutrality?
Net neutrality will be replaced by the FCC's "Restoring Internet Freedom" order which increases disclosure requirements for broadband companies including reporting when they engage in blocking and throttling of content, or prioritization of their content. It also restores authority to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is the consumer protection and privacy cop for Americans.
Will I notice any difference in how I access websites or content online?
No, and experts agree that's not likely to change in the future. Broadband companies have pledged to not to block or throttle content. They aren't likely to go back on their word, especially as they now have greater reporting requirements to give consumers more information.
The Washington Post debunks claims that your internet will slow to a crawl:
Contrary to what Democrats claim in their tweet (which looks a lot like this tweet from the ACLU, by the way), some of the biggest U.S. broadband providers say in pretty stark terms that they have no plans to block or throttle content or to start along the road of paid prioritization.
“Even with the FCC’s recent changes to net neutrality, nothing has changed,” said Richard J. Young, a Verizon spokesman. “For years, we’ve seen all sorts of hypothetical scenarios in which some speculate that changes to net neutrality rules will bring the end to the Internet as we know it. The fact is that we need to end the speculation, because the reality tells a very different story.”
Sena Fitzmaurice, a spokeswoman for Comcast, said “we have a long history of supporting net neutrality and have been calling on congressional legislation to enshrine it for years.” She pointed to a Dec. 13 blog post by David L. Cohen, Comcast’s senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer.
“Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our Internet service is not going to change,” the blog post says. “Comcast customers will continue to enjoy all of the benefits of an open Internet today, tomorrow, and in the future. Period.”
So what's next?
Congress can pass legislation if they want to enshrine the idea of a free and open internet. The Senate voted recently to save the rules, but it's not likely to pass the House.
The battle moves to the states and the Courts. Some 29 states have introduced legislation to maintain net neutrality provisions. Governors in Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana, Rhode Island, Vermont have also signed executive orders, while Oregon, Vermont, and Washington enacted net neutrality legislation.
Several state attorneys general have filed suit against the FCC joined by advocacy groups, industry groups, and by companies, but there's no certainty whether the case will go anywhere.
The Left is also using this issue to get young people to turn out to vote in the 2018 midterm elections.
The end of net neutrality is a good thing. The internet developed to deliver social media websites, online shopping, programming for every taste and so much more without heavy government intervention.
We will return to that kind of regulatory environment and, hopefully, even more Americans will gain access to the internet and its possibilities in the decades to come.