In 2015, following much public and political hue and cry, the Federal Communications Commission set out stringent rules for net neutrality. The rules prevented internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon from charging fees to companies like Netflix and Amazon that use the internet to provide high data volume content to end users. The rules also disallowed the ISPs from providing fast lanes for some companies (including themselves) and slow lanes for other content providers unwilling or unable to pay the higher fees. The decision was a big deal for companies like Amazon, Google, and Netflix that are highly dependent upon internet download speeds for video streaming.
Opponents of the new rules, especially the large ISPs, claimed that such fees were necessary to provide funds to upgrade the hardware to handle the growing demand for broadband services. The increasing volume of data content providers were streaming to end users was straining their networks and causing service disruptions. The ISPs were also concerned that the rules would suppress further investment in broadband.
Champions of net neutrality (consumer advocacy groups and large bandwidth users) argued that the ISPs were sufficiently profitable and could afford to upgrade their systems without additional fees or charges. Proponents declared the decision a victory for consumers and “small” businesses. Supporters had even greater reason to celebrate when in June of 2016 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit upheld the validity of the internet access rules. The big deal about the appellate court’s opinion was the declaration that the internet could be treated as a public utility, giving the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the legal authority to enforce net neutrality requirements.
The industry’s next natural move would have been to appeal this decision to the US Supreme Court. Enter the Trump Administration, and the battle took a new twist. In January 2017, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai, a Republican opponent of net neutrality as FCC Chairman. In February, Pai began rolling back net neutrality regulations. At a press conference on March 30, 2017, White House spokesman, Sean, Spicer announced the opening salvo, stating that President Trump had “pledged to reverse” the government’s overreach under the Obama Administration. The Trump Administration’s main argument against net neutrality—Washington bureaucrats are picking business winners and losers by restricting certain kinds of businesses (in this case, ISPs) while benefiting other internet users such as Google, Netflix, and Amazon.
Interestingly, both sides argue the consumer will lose. Opponents of net neutrality rules say if the broadband industry can’t charge higher fees to the data hogs, then the consumer in one way or another will have to pay for necessary hardware upgrades. Proponents of net neutrality argue that if the new rules are eliminated, the consumer will face the consequences of slower download speeds when trying to watch their favorite videos or possibly face higher fees from their content providers.
Not only who is right about this one, but also who will win the fight is up for grabs as Net Neutrality is President Trump’s Next Target.