FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s dream of an internet unshackled from net neutrality regulations is coming true. The Open Internet Order is no longer in effect as of June 11th, opening the door for internet service providers to control access to online content in the United States as they see fit.
The Open Internet Order was enacted by the FCC during President Obama’s administration under then-director Tom Wheeler. The FCC’s rules protected the spirit of net neutrality by blocking ISPs from throttling bandwidth for any content, or preventing any content from reaching end users.
ISPs argued the regulations weren’t necessary because they already respected net neutrality. End users, however, didn’t see it that way thanks to Comcast and Verizon strong-arming Netflix into paying extra money to get streaming movies to customers.
In that incident, Netflix users saw the quality of the movies they watched degraded as Comcast and Verizon choked off the bandwidth for the streams. In some cases, movies would stutter and stall, or drop out completely. Once Netflix agreed to the ISP payment terms, movie streaming worked reliably again.
Other ISPs have been accused of violating the idea of net neutrality, too. AT&T, for example, blocked the iPhone Skype app on its cellular network several years ago.
An Internet Without Net Neutrality
The U.S. Senate passed a bill protecting net neutrality, but it stalled in the House of Representatives. Even if the bill does eventually make it to the White House the likelihood Mr. Trump will sign it into law is essentially zero.
For now, don’t expect to see any changes in how your ISP handles internet traffic. Odds are nothing will happen for several months as companies watch to see if any net neutrality legislation becomes law. Waiting also lets ISPs say they’re proving federal regulations aren’t necessary.
Assuming net neutrality doesn’t become law, ISPs will start chipping away at our unfettered online access. I expect that’ll start as “internet bundles” ISPs will present as special deals and ways for us to pay for just the parts of the internet we use.
Without paying extra for the bundles our online searches may be restricted to a specific search engine, we may not be able to access online social networks, and streaming video could be limited to just what our ISP offers.
Midterm elections are coming up in November, so ISPs will likely wait until after that before making any changes. They also need to figure out how to deal with individual states taking action to protect net neutrality.
So far, two states have passed pro-net neutrality legislation, more than 30 others have legislation or executive orders on the way.
The FCC calls today’s changes the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. From the perspective of ISPs, that’s exactly what it is. From the end user perspective, however, odds are this will be something very different.