US Net Neutrality Game Over…or is it? FCC Regulations Could Be Challenged by States, Opponents Still in the Ring

Posted on: June 12, 2018, 07:31h. 

Last updated on: June 12, 2018, 07:34h.

US net neutrality had an open-casket wake on Monday, as Obama-era rules designed to safeguard an uncensored and equal opportunity internet were rolled back and replaced by a new set of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations that give more power to service providers in how they deliver online content to Americans.

US net neutrality game over
On Monday, the FCC’s new regulations that killed net neutrality kicked in. How will it affect Americans and is the issue now dead and gone? Hardly. (Image: DreamHost)

Under the old rules, internet service providers (ISPs) were required, by law, to treat all online content the same way: regulated or un, glorious or revolting. That means they were prohibited from speeding up, slowing down, blocking, or otherwise discriminating against any type of content whatsoever.

Now that’s all going to change, but what does it add up to in real terms for internet users in the US?

In an op-ed for CNET on Monday, FCC head Ajit Pai insisted the new regulatory framework will “protect the free and open internet and deliver more digital opportunity to more Americans,” without explaining precisely how.

“Our goal is simple: better, faster, cheaper internet access for American consumers who are in control of their own online experience,” claimed Pai.

The new rules give ISPs free rein to deliberately slow down or block traffic from certain websites or apps.

But will that lead to unfair advantage for providers if they make their own online products more easily accessible to impatient users? For example, Comcast could potentially run Netflix at a slower speed than its own Xfinity On Demand streaming service, or block Skype to promote its Xfinity Voice.

Online Gambling Implications

ISPs claim they aren’t going to do any of these things, but the door has at least been opened for the possibility.

They could, for example, start charging customers extra for services not yet offered. Many fear that ISPs could one day charge customers more to access internet services that are currently included as part of your monthly bill, so that the internet could begin to look more like cable TV.

The new rules could also foster an environment that will favor established internet giants over new entrants. What this all means for online gambling is not yet completely clear.

But it could potentially make it easier for ISPs to slow or block gambling websites if they so choose.

Monitoring Nightmare

ISPs will still be beholden to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which will act against providers if their behavior is deemed to be anti-competitive, but only if they are “deceiving the public.” How that will be determined and regulated is the tricky part.

There are some 7,000 US internet service providers, according to the CIA, making it the most abundant ISP center on the globe. Trying to keep abreast of what each one does will be a challenging situation at best for FTC regulators.

One thing is almost certain: with the new rules now in force, service providers will be emailing users about changes to their terms of service.

While there has been fierce resistance since the FCC’s vote to repeal the rules last December — including several public demonstrations outside the FCC building in Washington, DC — no fresh protests were reported on Monday.

Net neutrality is not going down without a fight, however. Over 20 states have sued the government since December in a bid to stop the repeal, as have the public-interest group Free Press, the Open Technology Institute think tank, and Mozilla/Firefox. The new laws have also been challenged in the Senate.

And despite a directive in the new framework that forbids states from adopting their own laws on net neutrality, Washington and Oregon have already done so, while California is hoping to follow suit, setting the stage for an unavoidable legal showdown.

But that seems to be the new normal across America these days, and with New Jersey having freshly won a Supreme Court ruling that overturned a long-standing federal sports betting directive in May, American states are likely to feel more empowered than ever to push back.

Stay tuned.