The Federal Communications Commission has officially repealed the net neutrality rules, a set of policies enacted by the Obama administration that requires internet providers to provide equal treatment to all websites and online content. How does this change affect regular users of the internet?
The original net neutrality rules, which was enacted in 2015, were meant to put broadband service as a utility, and also gave the FCC regulatory powers over internet providers like Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, Charter and more, as the New York Time's report laid out in detail.
The net neutrality rules were well known and defended by users and online groups for the prohibitions they put in place, which were a check on the various ways Internet Service Providers (ISPs) can control and perhaps profit from the traffic going through their facilities.
ISPs were not allowed to block against online content, as long as they are considered lawful. That means ISPs cannot arbitrarily prevent access from certain websites or apps. On the same vein, slowing down access or "throttling" the transmission of data to certain websites, or discriminating against certain types of content, were illegal as well.
On the other hand, ISPs were also not allowed to prioritize online content by certain users or websites to the detriment of others. That means ISPs cannot set up paid or "premium" tiers that offer "fast lanes" for certain apps or websites while slowing down others.
With net neutrality laws repealed, ISPs can now offer users to pay more for better access to sites and apps like Facebook or Netflix, while these companies can likewise pay to have their online traffic prioritized above others.
According to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, repealing these restrictions will boost business and innovation for internet service providers, as Futurism pointed out. Consumer advocates, users and the political left have criticized the repeal as a move that could undermine freedom of expression and fair competition online.
While the net neutrality repeal has gone official, Democrats in Congress have already begun to move to reinstate net neutrality rules in some form. This process, however, will take a few years, although House Democrats have some assurance that they can pull it off during President Trump's term.
Meanwhile, several states have moved on their own, with Washington leading the way by passing its own net neutrality policy earlier this March, which took effect this Tuesday with the repeal of federal net neutrality rules. Montana and New York have set up net neutrality as a part of ISP contracts undertaken with the state government, and are now working to extend this to regular subscribers as well using executive orders.
California is also working on its own net neutrality laws for now. By late May, 29 state legislatures have already introduced their own net neutrality bills.