The Federal Communications Commission today voted 2-to-1 to begin the process of overturning net neutrality rules. The rules, which were put in place just two years ago under previous FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, ensure that internet service providers can’t discriminate between different kinds of content being sent over your internet connection.
Today’s vote is the first step in a long process. Undoing the previous administration’s net neutrality rules will take months, at least. Today’s vote doesn’t immediately change anything, but instead starts a months-long public consultation period, during which the FCC will take comments from the industry and general public about undoing the 2015 Open Internet Order.
Up for debate are two proposals. The first is undoing the classification of ISPs under Title II, the same as other utilities like water or electric companies. Title II classification gives the FCC far more power to regulate the industry, and to enforce net neutrality rules on telecoms companies. The FCC moved to classify ISPs under Title II after a previous set of net neutrality rules was struck down in court.
The second, more open-ended question, is whether the FCC should impose any kind of net neutrality rules at all. Ajit Pai, the FCC Chairman, has hinted in the past that a “voluntary” agreement not to violate the principles of net neutrality would be his ideal solution, but that puts a lot of trust on ISPs not to screw over customers — not something that’s really worked in the past.
Although today’s vote was just the first step in stripping Title II classification from ISPs, it’s difficult to see any ending to this story that doesn’t involve vastly weakened net neutrality rules, if any rules are left at all. The only tiny glimmer of hope left is an administrative one: the FCC needs to meet a quorum of three commissioners in order to hold a deciding vote, and the lone Democratic Commissioner’s term is set to expire in July. A new Commissioner will have to be appointed by Congress before a deciding vote can be held, something Democratic lawmakers may use to try and extract concessions from Pai.