NEW YORK — “Net neutrality” regulations, designed to prevent internet service providers such as Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and Charter from favoring some sites and apps over others, are on the chopping block. The head of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, on Wednesday proposed undoing the Obama-era rules that have been in place since 2015.
Here’s a look at what the developments mean for consumers and companies.
• WHAT IS NET NEUTRALITY?
Net neutrality is the principle that internet providers treat all web traffic equally, and it’s pretty much how the internet has worked since its creation. But regulators, consumer advocates and internet companies were concerned about what broadband companies could do with their power as the pathway to the internet — blocking or slowing down apps that rival their own services, for example.
• WHAT DID THE GOVERNMENT DO ABOUT IT?
The FCC in 2015 approved rules, on a party-line vote, that made sure cable and phone companies don’t manipulate traffic. With them in place, Comcast can’t charge Netflix for a faster path to its customers, or block it or slow it down. Several internet providers said they didn’t plan to do those things and Comcast said Wednesday that it supported undoing the net neutrality rules but did not “block, throttle or discriminate” against internet content.
The net neutrality rules gave the FCC power to go after companies for business practices that weren’t explicitly banned as well. For example, the Obama FCC said that “zero rating” practices by AT&T violated net neutrality. The telecom giant exempted its own video app from cellphone data caps, which would save some consumers money, and said video rivals could pay for the same treatment. Pai’s FCC spiked the effort to go after AT&T, even before it began rolling out a plan to undo the net neutrality rules entirely.
A federal appeals court upheld the rules in 2016 after broadband providers sued.
• WHY IS THE INDUSTRY OPPOSED?
Companies say they don’t want the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules. They say the regulations can undermine investment in broadband and introduced uncertainty about what were acceptable business practices. There were concerns about potential price regulation, even though the FCC had said it won’t set prices for consumer internet service.
• WHAT’S CHANGING FOR CONSUMERS?
Nothing, for now.
The FCC is a slow-moving agency, so Pai’s announcement merely kicks off a monthslong procedure to undo the rules. Democratic lawmakers, activists and companies that support net neutrality have pledged to defend them. Republican lawmakers who opposed the 2015 rules on Wednesday invited Democrats in Congress to work on net neutrality legislation that would take precedence over FCC regulations.
In the long run, net-neutrality advocates say undoing these rules makes it harder for the government to crack down on internet providers who act against consumer interests and will harm innovation. Those who criticize the rules say undoing them is good for investment in broadband networks.