The repealing of net neutrality rules in the US is going to set a wrong precedent for the governments and internet companies globally. The FCC (Federal Communications Commission) voted on Thursday to overturn the net neutrality norms formed by the Obama administration in 2015. The decision would have impact on internet policies not just in US but in other markets as well.
The decision has come as a shocker for the net neutrality advocates across the globe. The result of the FCC voting also damages the perception of the US which has built a strong reputation of putting consumers' interest over large corporations. With this move, FCC, an independent agency regulating communications matters, is sending out a message that it is favouring lobby groups at the cost of consumers and innovation.
To be fair, India's telecom regulator TRAI (Telecom Regulatory Authority of India) has recently ruled in favour of net neutrality but since the internet regulations across the globe are still evolving, norms on important issues like net neutrality could be reviewed with the changes in the internet landscape. In short, regulations are more transient when it comes to internet.
The key argument that has steamrolled net neutrality is that the rules are hurting internet service providers (ISPs) who have slowed down their investments in building broadband infrastructure. But that's not true to some extent. Going by the recent statements of Ajit Pai, the chairman of FCC, the matter seems more political.
For instance, Pai said last month that the large internet firms pose bigger threat to online freedom than ISPs because they frequently block content that they don't like. "Despite all the talk about the fear that broadband providers could decide what internet content consumers can see, recent experience shows that so-called edge providers are in fact deciding what content they see," Pai had said. He gave example of social media platform Twitter which reportedly blocked a video by a Republican candidate Marsha Blackburn because it contained an "inflammatory line" related to abortion.
Pai, which was appointed by US president Donald Trump, is viewing at ISPs and internet firms as two different blocks working in silos. The biggest issue that challenges the existence of net neutrality is that ISPs - and telecom operators - often work in cahoots to push a certain type of content over others. Telecom and internet providers can offer paid fast lanes to content providers (biggest content generators today are internet companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter) while blocking the content of fledgling content companies. The FCC's decision opens up a world of possibilities for broadband providers and internet firms to form alliances and create a scenario where walled gardens, blocking, throttling will be, unbelievably, acceptable.
It's not the end of the world for net neutrality advocates. Their first resort against this ruling is expected to be moving courts. The issue will reach Congress where the final decision is going to be made. For net neutrality to be reinstalled, the House, the Senate and the president are required to jettison FCC's decision but that's unlikely because all three are currently controlled by Republicans. The ultimate solution to the problem is to insulate the issue of net neutrality from whatever political party comes into power. As the world's largest economy and the torchbearer of internet innovation, US has let down the consumers with the squashing of net neutrality norms which is likely a far-reaching impact on the internet scene.