In an unsurprising 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC has overturned net-neutrality rules put in place in 2015.
The vote reclassifies ISPs as non-common carriers, freeing them from Title II-based regulations, and transfers most oversight to the Federal Trade Commission.
Rules against blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization are no longer in place, and critics have asserted that broadband providers will be able to block, slow down, or collect fees from rival services.
A transparency rule was adopted that requires ISPs to inform the FCC or post online to let users and government know what policies they are using.
The FCC can also preempt local or state efforts to create their own net neutrality laws.
“Simply put, by returning to the light-touch Title I framework, we are helping consumers and promoting competition,” Chairman Ajit Pai said. “Broadband providers will have stronger incentives to build networks, especially in unserved areas, and to upgrade networks to gigabit speeds and 5G. This means there will be more competition among broadband providers. It also means more ways that startups and tech giants alike can deliver applications and content to more users. In short, it’s a freer and more open internet.”
The vote is seen as a big win for ISPs, and the decision was applauded by groups across the industry.
Chuck Hogg, chairman of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) commended the vote, saying “WISPA appreciates that the FCC took WISPA members’ concerns into account. On several occasions, we informed the commissioners that the 2015 regulations – designed to treat all internet providers like large monopoly utilities and subject them to bureaucratic micro-management – were diverting our members’ resources away from investment in under-served areas.”
“Our members do not block, throttle, or accept payments to prioritize internet traffic. WISPA agrees that ISPs should clearly disclose their terms of service, disclose their network management practices, and protect their customers’ private information; and our members do,” Hogg noted. “All of this will continue under the FCC framework adopted today.”
Matthew Polka, CEO of the American Cable Association, also saw the move as a win for ISPs.
“Under the regulatory regime adopted by the previous FCC, no one came out a winner – not smaller ISPs, not their customers, not upstream edge providers. The order adopted by the FCC today ends this ‘unvirtuous’ cycle,” Polka said in a statement. “Customers of smaller ISPs will not only continue to have an open internet, but also they will have greatly enhanced access as ISPs upgrade their networks and roll out new services. ACA applauds the FCC for restoring a regulatory regime that truly serves the public interest.”
Of course, not all sides were happy. In dissenting remarks before the vote Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said ending net neutrality hurts consumers, businesses, and marginalized populations, while handing the key to the internet to a “handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”
This item, she said, “ensures the FCC will never be able to fully grasp the harm it may have unleashed on the internet ecosystem.”
As MoffettNathanson analysts point out, the story if far from over though.
“Perhaps the most important takeaway from all this is that we aren’t close to the end of the story yet. Until Congress acts – and it doesn’t look like that is coming soon – Net Neutrality will, unfortunately, remain the political football it has become,” analysts wrote in a note to investors.
Filed Under: Industry regulations