The Obama-era net neutrality rules will officially end on June 11, the Federal Communications Commission said today.
The news means that broadband providers -- at least in most states -- will be free to censor sites, slow down apps, and engage in any number of other questionable practices. Among others, they will be free to charge online video companies higher fees for prioritized delivery, or charge consumers extra fees to stream Netflix or Amazon Prime.
Some Internet service providers have said they have no intention of blocking or throttling broadband traffic, but history suggests otherwise. Earlier in this decade, Verizon was fined by the FCC for taking steps to prevent people from using tethering apps. Several years ago, AT&T said it was going to disable Apple's video chat app FaceTime on the 3G network unless people purchased a then-new "shared data" plan. And 10 years ago, Comcast was caught throttling BitTorrent traffic.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who spearheaded the repeal, has long argued that the rules were "heavy-handed" and unnecessary. He repeated those claims today, when he announced the date on which the former rules will end.
“The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015, when the prior FCC buckled to political pressure and imposed heavy-handed ... rules on the Internet economy," he stated. "Now, on June 11, these unnecessary and harmful Internet regulations will be repealed and the bipartisan, light-touch approach that served the online world well for nearly 20 years will be restored."
In fact, however, the FCC has attempted to impose net neutrality obligations on providers since at least 2005, via a combination of policy statements, fines and regulations. In 2010, the FCC passed a set of regulations that prohibited wireline providers from blocking or throttling content. (Verizon successfully sued to invalidate those rules.)
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, a net neutrality proponent, had sharp words for her Republican colleagues. "This is shameful," she tweeted in response to news of the date the repeal takes effect. "But I'm not giving up -- and neither should you. Let's keep making a ruckus until internet openness is once again the law of the land."
Already several states have taken steps to reinstate net neutrality rules -- although it's not clear that those efforts will survive a court challenge.
Senate Democrats also said this week that they are moving ahead with a resolution to reinstate the Obama-era rules. As of today, 50 senators have said they will vote to restore the rules, meaning that the measure will pass 50-49 -- assuming that Senator John McCain (R-Arizona), currently on a medical leave, doesn't vote. But the House remains far short of the votes it would take to pass the measure.
Still, the resolution could pick up support in this midterm election year -- especially if net neutrality continues to have strong bipartisan support.
Whether they have the votes or not, Senate Democrats plan to force lawmakers to go on record with their position next week.
"We are forcing a vote on #NetNeutrality because Americans deserve to know who is working for them in Washington and who is beholden to the whims of big corporations," Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) tweeted.
"There will be nowhere for Senators to hide," Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) added in a tweet. "You are either for it or you are against it. No excuses, no lame explanations, just an up or down vote on the record. I am looking forward to this."