As expected, the Federal Communications Commission today published the full text of its order repealing the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
The move means that the battle over the future of broadband will now move to the courts, Capitol Hill and statehouses throughout the country. Already, advocacy groups, tech companies and other net neutrality proponents are gearing up to fight for restoration of the rules, which prohibited carriers from blocking or throttling traffic and from charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery.
A coalition of 23 attorneys general are proceeding with a lawsuit challenging the repeal, as are Mozilla, Vimeo and consumer advocacy groups. Senator Ed Markey (D-Massachusetts) said Thursday he is pressing forward with a resolution to scrap the FCC's recent move. So far, that effort has garnered the support of 50 senators.
The FCC voted 3-2 last December to repeal the Obama-era rules, which treated broadband as a common-carrier service. Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said those rules were too "heavy handed." But a broad array of net neutrality proponents counter that the rules are necessary to prevent broadband providers from engaging in censorship, and from harming competitors.
The FCC's two Democrats are among the most vocal critics of the decision to repeal the rules.
"Today it is official: the FCC majority has taken the next step in handing the keys to the internet over to billion-dollar broadband providers," Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated. "I am both disappointed and hopeful. Disappointed that this is one more anti-consumer notch on this FCC’s belt, but hopeful that the arc of history is bent in favor of net neutrality protections."
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel added that the agency "is on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of the law."
After the repeal takes effect -- which won't happen for at least two months -- broadband providers will be free to censor sites, slow down competitors and otherwise interfere with people's use of the web. In other words, a carrier like Comcast or Charter will be able to throttle traffic from online video providers like Netflix or Amazon. For now, the major Internet service providers have said they have no plans to block or throttle traffic. But that could change at any time.
Carriers will also be able to engage in practices that fall short of blocking and throttling, but nonetheless influence how consumers access services. For instance, carriers will be able to make their own video services more appealing by exempting their own streams from consumers' data caps. (In fact, AT&T has been doing that since 2016, but the Obama-era FCC said the practice violated the net neutrality rules. After current chairman Ajit Pai took over, he gave AT&T the green light to continue.)
On Thursday, the American Library Association -- which is among the groups that have long supported net neutrality -- declared that open Internet principles are "essential" to intellectual freedom and democracy. "Without the protection of Net Neutrality, tiered access limits diversity and blocks ideas and opinions," the group writes. "Allowing ISPs to determine which speech receives priority access and which speech can be delayed, or even blocked, based on commercial and financial interests impairs intellectual freedom. This leads inevitably to censorship of voices without economic or political power."