Net Neutrality’s Repeal Explained

Net neutrality is officially dead. The Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of internet protections took effect on June 11.  Given the outcry since the FCC’s vote to repeal in December, this news is probably on your radar. While minor elements of the proposal went into effect last month, most aspects required approval from the Office of Management and Budget, which has finally taken place. With things changing now, here’s a breakdown of what the repeal means and how it could affect you.


What is net neutrality?


Net neutrality is the idea that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. Essentially, it kept companies that deliver content from playing favorites or prioritizing their own content over that of their competitors. The rules prohibited:


Blocking — Discriminating against content by blocking websites or apps.


Throttling — Slowing traffic from specific websites or apps.


Paid prioritization — Creating an internet fast lane for companies and consumers who pay premiums, and a slow lane for those who do not.


What does the FCC repeal mean?


There are no longer rules to prevent blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. Internet providers are now free to engage in these activities without legal ramifications. All they’re required to do is disclose it to the public on their websites or to the FCC.


The FCC will also no longer be enforcing violations. That’s now the job of the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC oversees consumer protection and competition for the entire economy, making it a busy agency that some fear won’t be able to exercise the same scrutiny that the FCC did.


What does this mean for you?


The concern is that repealing the rules and stripping the FCC of its authority will allow broadband companies to control more of your internet experience. As companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast acquire more online content, they could give their services priority on their networks, squeezing out rivals and limiting what you can access.


Other concerns are that as companies move to limit competition, fewer startups will have the chance to succeed, eventually leading to higher prices for consumers.


Can the repeal be fought?


The battle isn’t over. There are a few avenues where the repeal could be, well, repealed.


Congress — The Congressional Review Act, or CRA, gives Congress, with the approval of the President, the ability to reject regulations issued by a federal agency. The act also gives Congress the power to bar the agency from taking similar action again.


The Senate passed legislation in May overturning the FCC’s repeal. The next step would be a vote in the House, and then, of course, the President would need to sign off. If you want to help facilitate this possibility, call or email your Congressional representatives.


States — California is among the states taking matters into its own hands, pushing to restore net neutrality rules within its borders. At one point, we were on our way to enjoying the “gold standard” of net neutrality, but lawmakers have gutted the proposed bill. However, California is still working toward passing some kind of net neutrality measure, so again, contact your representatives in the California State Legislature to voice what you’d like to see done.


Courts — Net neutrality advocates have sued the FCC in federal court. The lawsuit has been filed based on a law called the Administrative Procedure Act, which bans federal agencies from making “arbitrary or capricious” decisions. The argument is that voting to revoke net neutrality less than three years since the rules were passed is capricious. (This is a semi-polite way to say a decision was inconsistent or made on a whim.)


It could take a while for a decision to be reached through the courts, so in the meantime, if you’re the petition-signing type, here’s one through the American Civil Liberties Union and another through