11 June 2018

Regulatory concerns remain as net neutrality ends in the US today

Federal Radio Commission swamped by mail in 1929

The FCC decision to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules takes effect today, raising concerns that a swamped FTC is unable to police the new regime.

The last procedural delays towards net neutrality take place today, as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to roll back Obama-era net neutrality rules takes effect.The net neutrality rules, passed in 2015, have been reversed by a Republican-led FCC. Net neutrality is the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally, regardless of platform, meaning companies cannot favour their own content over competitor content. The vote to reverse was taken on Dec. 14, but only come into effect today.

‘A light touch’

The 2015 regulations prohibited broadband providers from blocking or slowing down traffic, banned them from offering so-called fast lanes to companies willing to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly than competitors, and reclassified broadband as a utility. Some aspects of the rule reversal came into effect last month, but approval from the Office of Management and Budget was still required, which is no longer the case as of today. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the Obama-era rules ‘heavy-handed’ and ‘a mistake.’ Mr Pai says the rules deterred innovation and depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks. The FCC is now taking a ‘light touch approach to regulation, which is welcomed by internet service providers.

FTC swamped

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) will now police internet service providers for anticompetitive acts and unfair or deceptive practices. However, concerns have been raised that the FTC is already swamped and, because it is not focused exclusively on the telecommunications sector, is unlikely to deliver the same level of scrutiny as the FCC. The FTC also lacks the FCC's rule-making authority, and thus enforcement extends only to companies' voluntary public commitments or to violations of antitrust law. Added worries are that violations handled by the FTC occur after the fact and investigations into wrongdoing can take years. The ‘transparency rule’ remains, requiring broadband providers to disclose how they manage their networks, including circumstances they block or slow traffic, and if and when they offer paid priority services.