What was inevitable since last year’s presidential election-the end of Obama-era net neutrality rules- became reality today. In the end, the objections of Democrats in Congress, Internet activists, and online companies were ignored. Not even a tsunami of public outcry in the form of millions of protest emails could not alter the outcome. Republicans claim that the rollback of rules will stimulate investment, and therefore, increase public access to and participation on the Internet.
The vote, as expected, was strictly along party lines. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, Commissioner Michael O’Reilly, and Commissioner Brendan Carr, all Republicans, supported the proposed rollback of the Obama-era rules, while Democratic Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel opposed the change. This bolsters the prevailing wisdom that the net neutrality fracas was never about keeping the internet free, or in the other instance, taking the internet away from the “people”.
No, it was power politics pure and simple and the handwriting was on the wall from November 7, 2016 - the day after the election. According to some, and you can read a couple of different opinions in my upcoming article, Obama threw the gauntlet down back in 2015, and started the whole shebang. Back then, many thought the Internet was working and growing just fine, thank you. Pai has said,
“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia. To the contrary, the internet is perhaps the one thing in American society we can all agree has been a stunning success.”
Obama saw it differently and seized an opportunity to “governmentalize” - regulate if you will -what some say needed no regulation.
Problem was, he circumvented Congress by not allowing the elected representatives of the people to weigh in. He merely picked up his pen, and thus was born the prickly proposition which came to be known as net neutrality. In the process, folks like Google/Alphabet biggie, Eric Schmidt who had Obama’s ear was turning handstands.
Sometimes in life, but surely in politics, what goes around comes around. The rules are now overturned - again without Congress - the elected representatives of the people - having a say. This could come back to haunt the Republicans in next year’s mid-term elections. We’ll have to see.
In the meantime, no pro-net neutrality ranting, or even a bomb threat during the proceedings during which the vote was temporarily halted, could alter the outcome. During the meeting, FCC Chairman defended the rules rollback saying,
"Let's be clear: returning to the legal framework that governed the Internet from President Clinton's pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the Internet. It's not going to end the Internet as we know it. It is not going to kill democracy. "...Simply put, by returning to the light-touch Title I framework, we are helping consumers and promoting competition."
In contrast, the Democrats and pro-net neutrality advocates see the approval of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal marking a victory for internet service providers like AT&T Inc., Comcast Corp., and Verizon Communications Inc. and handing them power over what content consumers can access. Joining them in their disappointment in the decision are smaller startups which worry that the lack of restrictions could drive up costs or lead to their content being blocked. Time will tell what the outcome will be for the Internet in the U.S.
Tomorrow? two different takes on the dismantling of net neutrality. Look for it.
Editors note: The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's alone, and do not reflect those held by other ProPrivacy.com staff members.
Image credit: By Steve Heap/Shuterstock.