You may have read that the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, led by chairman Ajit Pai, is proposing to remove Title II regulations that classify ISPs as “common carriers,” essentially eliminating the legal justification for net neutrality rules. Here are three things you should to know:

  1. What’s next: The actual vote to finalize the repeal of the FCC’s previously imposed Title II regulations won’t happen until December 14. However, it’s expected that the Republican-controlled FCC will vote along party lines in favor of Pai’s proposal. Once Title II is repealed, or at least until new rules are implemented, it will be up to the ISPs to self-regulate and follow their own version of “net neutrality” (aside from a few leftover requirements around increased ISP “transparency” remaining in place). While it’s likely a few lawsuits will pop up after the vote, claiming improper decision-making or flawed reasoning, these are unlikely to go anywhere in court based on prior precedent. This decision will stand, likely until the 2020 primaries.
  2. What does this mean for businesses and consumers: Pai’s reasoning behind the repeal is that current Title II regulations are heavy-handed, deterring investment and innovation in broadband, and that there’s no consumer benefit to rules on blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. While both of these claims go against strong evidence to the contrary and widespread public support for net neutrality rules, businesses and consumers are unlikely to see an immediate impact from the Title II repeal. However, the long-term impact will likely be negative for consumers and businesses – the repeal will do little to spur increased investment in broadband, and U.S. ISPs will begin to make small changes over the next few years, such as increasingly throttling certain types of video streams, prioritizing ISP-promoted services and applications, or pushing al-a-cart service plans. While we’re unlikely to see explicit restrictions on specific services or applications, we can expect internet access and what are now low-cost or free services and applications to become more expensive as ISPs find ways to get into the service and content management side of things.
  3. This is just the beginning: Other than potentially working with politically-minded individuals and organizations to capitalize on strong positive sentiment and advocacy for net neutrality, businesses should adopt a wait-and-see approach moving forward. There are a number of factors that could change the landscape long-term, such as the degree to which ISPs implement anti-net neutrality practices, the possibility of increased competition among broadband providers, the swing of political power between the left and right, and how influential businesses that rely on neutral internet access, like Google and Amazon, respond. The bottom line: we’re nowhere near the end of the fight for net neutrality. This is just another battle within a larger war.
Jon Ramsey

Jon Ramsey is a director in APCO Worldwide’s Technology Practice based in the firm’s Seattle office. Read More