New US Neutrality Rules Repealed; Supporters, Critics of Move Wonder What’s Next

The Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of the United States’ net neutrality rules — which mandated internet service providers to not discriminate in their handling of internet traffic — took effect Monday, reigniting fears from internet freedom advocates of potential manipulation of consumers’ internet access.

The FCC voted in December to overturn its net neutrality rule, first put in place by the Obama administration in 2015. With its repeal, the door is now open for internet service providers to block content, slow data transmission, and create “fast lanes” for consumers who pay premiums.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a staunch critic of net neutrality, wrote Sunday that while he “support[s] a free an open internet,” the overturning of the Obama-era rule will allow the FTC [Federal Trade Commission] to “once again be able to protect Americans consistently across the internet economy.”

In 2004, then-FCC Chairman Michael Powell announced the commission’s support of what he called the “four internet freedoms,” including the freedom of consumers to access content. Since 2005, the FCC had enforced net neutrality rules in some regard, with the support of both Republican and Democratic chairmen. In 2015, the regulations were codified into law. 

“We’re actually in a brave new world where no protections for a free internet currently exist, whereas they have for the majority of the history of the internet,” Tim Karr, senior director of strategy and communications of media watchdog Free Press, told VOA on Monday. 

Karr said based on the prior actions of internet service providers, he feared we could see restrictions placed on such free internet access.

In 2007, the Associated Press reported that telecommunications giant Comcast was stifling connection to file-sharing websites such as BitTorrent. In 2011, fellow communication company Verizon blocked the download of Google Wallet, a payment app, on its mobile devices.

Verizon spokesman Rich Young told VOA that the company “strongly supports open internet rules,” and the recent FCC decision does not change the company’s support of full internet access.

Since the December FCC decision, two states — Washington and Oregon — have passed their own net neutrality laws, whereas governors of five other states — Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Montana and Vermont — have issued executive orders mandating that internet service providers for government agencies abide by net neutrality regulations.

In May, the U.S. Senate voted 52-47 to reinstate the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules. Every Democratic senator voted for the proposal, as did three Republicans: John Kennedy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

The bill is now in the House of Representatives, where outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, has not yet announced any plans to bring the bill to the floor for a vote.

Congressman Mike Doyle, a Pennsylvania Democrat, filed a petition in May to force a vote on the matter. Doyle spokesperson Matt Dinkel said of the 218 signees for the petition needed to force a vote, the petition currently has 170.

“If enough representatives sign the discharge petition to bring the bill to the floor, odds are that it will pass,” Dinkel told VOA.

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