AT&T, the cable industry group NCTA, and CenturyLink are asking the Supreme Court to overturn the Obama-era “net neutrality” rule, which bars internet service providers from slowing or blocking rivals’ content. The appeals, filed on 28th September, will put new pressure on a rule enacted in 2015 when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was under Democratic control.
The fight over net neutrality has grown more contentious in recent months in the wireless industry as carriers increasingly expand into digital media and advertising to offset slowing growth in the U.S. mobile market.
Changes to the rule were already being proposed by the head of FCC, AjitPai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump in January. Although Pai hasn’t said when the agency may take final action on the replacement rule but the prospect has produced a public outpouring, with the FCC’s website receiving more than 22 million comments.
The undoing of net neutrality rules would give operators opportunities to leverage their own content, placing smaller digital media companies at a disadvantage. Verizon could enable faster speeds for users willing to endure AOL ads, for instance, or AT&T could do the same for mobile users of its DirecTV service. And with the ongoing merger with Time Warner, AT&T along with its biased ISP network could get a larger slice of the digital media and advertising market.
If the US repeals net neutrality rules, the repeal could also harm or destroy global businesses and organizations by allowing US ISPs to decide what their US customers can see and do online while using their services, even discriminating against international traffic. ISPs would have the power to block sites and apps, and even force websites to pay expensive “prioritization” fees just to reach customers. Such arrangements would stifle innovation online and make it harder for the next great streaming service or social network to reach the market.
Even more troubling than the threat to consumers is the impact this could have on democracy. Ending net neutrality would take freedom and choice from the less powerful.
The FCC must abandon its ill-conceived plan to end net neutrality. Instead of creating fast lanes for the few, it should be moving all to the fast lane by encouraging competition in local broadband connectivity and pushing companies to deliver higher speeds at more affordable prices.
Sugandha Shrestha, Senior Analyst at A2Z Insights