PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Net neutrality rules: one side calls them protections critical for keeping the Internet open and fair. The other side contends they’re an example of government overreach that’s costing consumers money. Whichever side you’re on, one thing appears certain: the regulations will be repealed Thursday when the Federal Communications Commission meets in Washington.
All Internet traffic, treated equally. That’s what net neutrality is designed to ensure, as the rules prevent broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking, slowing, or speeding access to certain sites and services — paid prioritization agreements that could separate Internet traffic into “fast lanes” and “slow lanes.”
“Absolutely nothing will be put in place to protect consumers from greedy corporations looking to take advantage of this new Internet wild west,” said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts). “Broadband providers get exactly what they want — an unregulated broadband marketplace, where they make consumers pay more for less. Americans just do not want that to happen.”
As FCC chairman during the Obama administration, Tom Wheeler ushered in net neutrality: his 2015 Open Internet order classified the Internet as a public utility (in government parlance, a Title II “common carrier” as opposed to a Title I “information service”). The Democrat contends doing away with the rules would remove the cop from the Internet beat, allowing broadband providers to self-regulate.
“This is a classic example of the regulators being captured by those they are supposed to oversee,” Wheeler said in a conference call with reporters. “The Trump FCC is taking away existing consumer protections at the request of the industry.”
Wheeler argues it could result a pay-to-play Internet, where, for example, Amazon and Facebook could pay more to get to your screen faster while smaller e-commerce competitors and social media startups who don’t fork over the cash would be left behind.
While Wheeler argues the current rules are necessary in a broadband provider landscape that is largely devoid of competition within markets, his successor contends the rollback will result in more choice for consumers.
“The last thing I think the federal government needed to do was to try to fix something that wasn’t broken,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “The free market, not government control, is the right way for the Internet to be governed.”
The Republican, who argued his case on Entercom Philadelphia’s Talk Radio 1210 WPHT, said the move could help bill-payers avoid the expense of the cable bundle.
“It’s much better for consumers: it allows them to get information about their service plans and try to pick what works best for them,” Pai said.
“What about my Netflix?” host Rich Zeoli asked. “‘I don’t want my Netflix slowed down,’ people say.”
“Exactly — that’s part of the reason why we need stronger networks going forward,” Pai replied. “The networks that carry that Netflix traffic have to be really robust and ubiquitous for consumers to enjoy their video streaming, and that’s not going to happen if you have these regulations that make it harder to build a business case for building these networks and maintaining them.”
Pai says network investment is critical especially in rural areas, where it is right to put quotes around “high-speed” as an adjective for the Internet.
“Companies I’ve heard from in places like Iowa and Nevada have told me these regulations are standing in the way of them building better, faster, cheaper access for rural and lower income Americans,” Pai told Zeoli.
For its part, Comcast says customers will “remain fully protected” as the new rules allow for “increased investment and innovation” along with “more competition in the marketplace.”
In a blog post, exec David Cohen pledges the Philadelphia media giant does not and will not “block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content” and has “no plans” to enter into paid prioritization agreements.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro is among eighteen state prosecutors calling on the FCC to delay Thursday’s net neutrality vote.
They claim a million or more fake submissions were made using stolen identities on the commission’s public comment website.
The Democrat says it means the FCC isn’t getting a clear picture of how their move will affect Americans.
“Net neutrality is vital, and we must continue to fight for these essential consumer protections at the FCC, in the courts, and in Congress,” Shapiro says, in a video posted to YouTube.
The attorneys general say they’ve received more than 5000 complaints about the comments.