Net Neutrality Under Siege by FCC Boss, Could Impact Online Gaming

Posted on: April 27, 2017, 11:00h. 

Last updated on: April 27, 2017, 11:43h.

Net neutrality, the principle that internet providers should allow users access to all content without preference or prejudice, is under attack by Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai. While that may be welcomed news to big telecommunications companies, it poses grave concerns for online gambling operators.

net neutrality FCC Ajit Pai
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says he will work with industry stakeholders and the general public to create a new regulatory framework for telecommunications in the US, but adds that the concept of net neutrality needs to be revoked. (Image: FCC)

Net neutrality prohibits internet service providers (ISPs) from prioritizing data, websites, and consumer activity, without favoring or blocking specific sites due to content or source.

As example, in 2007, Comcast, the largest telecommunications company in the world, deliberately slowed uploading and downloading speeds of peer-to-peer file sharing sites. Comcast obstructed the networks, claiming concerns that these sites used too much bandwidth.

In layman’s terms, net neutrality is the concept that the internet should be treated as a public utility, not unlike water and electricity. Categorizing broadband services as vital to one’s daily life allowed the FCC to regulate how it’s dispensed and provided to customers.

Without net neutrality, ISPs could dictate which sites and applications worked most quickly on their servers. That possibility was seen as a potential threat to online gaming, as internet gamblers and poker players worried about being restricted from certain networks.

Should net neutrality become a thing of the past, companies like Comcast, in theory, could slow the processing speeds of any sites they wished. For example, if an ISP decided its customers shouldn’t be spinning real money slots online, or sitting at an offshore interactive poker table, that company could legally block access.

Net neutrality eased those worries, but Pai’s FCC wants the government to withdraw its oversight. Not everyone is excited.

“By ignoring what the public wants and attacking . . . internet rules, the FCC is playing with fire and potentially opening the floodgates for widespread censorship,” nonprofit group Fight for the Future, which pushes to keep the web free of government interference, said in a recent statement.

Few Neutral on Net Neutrality

The subject of net neutrality is a highly emotional topic, and one that’s become politicized due to its history.

Passed in 1996, Congress’ Communications Act mandated that the then-new World Wide Web be “unfettered” by federal regulation, and for nearly 20 years, the US government has had little oversight of internet services. That changed in 2015, when Democrat Tom Wheeler, appointed by then-President Barack Obama, reclassified ISPs as “utilities” under Title II of the Communications Act.

Though Obama appointed Pai to the FCC, he only became the government agency’s chairman in 2017 after being nominated by President Donald Trump.

Among the opponents to redefining net neutrality is Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. In 2016, the social media billionaire said during a keynote that he favors “a global community for bringing people together . . . for free flow of ideas and culture.”

Business Celebrates Decision

Classifying ISPs as utilities hurts telecommunications, Pai argues.

“What happened after the Commission adopted Title II? Infrastructure declined. Reduced investment means fewer Americans will have jobs, and it means less competition for consumers,” Pai explained this week during a speech at the Newseum in Washington, DC.

Competition could be critical in gaining widespread support to dissolve net neutrality. Americans presently have few options when it comes to choosing an ISP.

In the meantime, companies like Comcast and Time Warner might soon have free reign over how their internet services reach customers. That is, of course, much to the conglomerates’ delight.

“We applaud FCC Chairman Pai’s initiative,” AT&T said in a statement. “Businesses large and small will have a clearer path to invest more in our nation’s broadband infrastructure.”