America’s Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to scrap net neutrality legislation, in a move that could impact how users view the web both in the US and around the world.
Previously, American Internet Service Providers (ISPs) were governed by the Communications Act of 1934. A rule that went by the name of Title II stipulated that all telecommunication providers had to go about their business without discrimination. As the date attached to the Act alludes, this decision was made more than 80 years ago, at a time when today’s communications landscape would be inconceivable. As such, critics argued that it was a law not fit for purpose, and therefore one that needed to be changed.
Following much legal wrangling and hand-wringing, the FCC has now voted to dismantle the Title II legislation – thereby giving ISPs free reign to choose the type of material served to its customers.
The ISPs – which campaigned for a legislation change – argue that the removal of net neutrality unshackles them, to now have greater opportunities for investment and innovation. Furthermore, they claim the legislation change could be of benefit to users as well. With greater differences emerging between ISPs, customers can choose the service that best suits their needs – forcing greater competition in what had otherwise been a handicapped marketplace.
Campaigners, on the other hand, argue that net neutrality is tantamount to censorship. They claim it gives ISPs free rein to stifle any sites or services they don’t like, in favour of ones they prefer. Some even argued this could stretch to the political sphere, with certain sites or forums put out of bounds – quashing free speech as a result. They even claimed that users may be faced with additional fees to access services such as Netflix or Spotify.
In response, the ISPs argue that these theories are wild exaggerations and that such outcomes were highly unlikely. They claimed that consumers would vote with their wallets and simply change providers if they found the service to fall below expectations. However, even this has one major pitfall: more than 50 million homes across the US are only being able to access to one ISP – they simply aren’t able to pick and choose.
The decision may have been made, but it seems the net neutrality argument will rumble on for some time yet.