Consent or Dissent?

On Thursday afternoon, technological history was made in the United States with the FCC’s decision to enforce Net Neutrality implications. After many months of anticipation, the FCC decided in a 3-2 vote “to apply the same rules that govern telephone service to broadband, with the hope that it ensures the fair and equal treatment of all traffic on the Internet”. The new rules classify broadband as a Title II telecommunications service, which gives the FCC unprecedented authority over the Internet and prohibits broadband providers from blocking, prioritizing, or favoring various web activities. I was fortunate enough to witness this monumental decision via live webcast, and the extremely heated debate was worth every second of my attention. It was amazing to witness history and it allowed me to see even further into the Net Neutrality implications; there were over 4 million public comments made to the FCC discussing the subject!

While there were clearly heartfelt speeches of support made by influential FCC figures such as Mignon Clyburn and Chairman Tom Wheeler, Ajit Pai’s dissent made it notable that the FCC was not all in favor of these new regulations. While the former claim that regulation will promote democracy for the American people, he claims that the FCC’s choice to follow President Obama’s plan to fix the Internet is unnecessary and marks a monumental shift towards government regulation.  It is evident that the current board of the FCC is divided about this issue, but it was also very interesting to read an article published by former FCC Chairman Michael Powell Friday, February 27th. Michael Powell offers an enticing version of his point of view on the Net Neutrality debate, and discusses how the decision made by the FCC does not necessarily create his idea of “Net Neutrality”. While the former chairman believes in a free and open Internet, as made evident in his “Four Freedoms” guidelines that he laid out while in office. The implications will give the FCC power to regulate rates, determine terms and conditions of business relationships, and ultimately raise consumer bills. Powell claims that consumers will actually have to wait longer to receive services, and that innovation of the Internet is “subject to constant bureaucratic review, political considerations, and collateral attack by competitors”. Essentially, he believes that the FCC is trying to convince both sides of the debate that the new plan will benefit them, but in the end,

“the FCC unfortunately has chosen a path that will lead to prolonged litigation, marketplace uncertainty and unintended consequences that could stretch throughout the entire Internet ecosystem”

The former chairman and current chairman clearly have different ideas of what Net Neutrality entails, and I am curious to see where these new Internet implications take our society. While a monumental decision has been made, I’m afraid this debate is far from its end. In the upcoming weeks, it is expected that ISP’s and large broadband providers will sue the FCC. Will the commission be up to the challenge to maintain their stance? While the future could bring many aspects, it is no question that we are witnessing exceptional moments in history.


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