A very one sided analysis, but it does a decent job examining the impact of the
Trum administration on "Net Neutrality."
Say good-bye to net neutrality
The Open Internet now rests in the hands of a GOP that has been openly hostile
to net neutrality rules
InfoWorld • Nov 18, 2016
Informed news analysis every weekday
In the wake of a Donald Trump’s upset victory, telecom industry players are
rubbing their hands in glee at the prospect of eviscerating Barack Obama’s
fledgling net neutrality rules.
It was one of the crowning achievements of Obama’s administration when the FCC
passed rules that barred broadband providers from selectively blocking or
slowing web traffic, or providing paid “fast lanes” for select content. The
rules enshrined the principal that all data traveling through ISPs’ pipes had
to be treated equally.
To give the rules a solid legal foundation, the agency also voted to reclassify
broadband as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
Net neutrality enjoyed huge bipartisan support among consumers. But Republican
lawmakers, who for the most part strongly opposed the rules, proceeded to put
forward more than a dozen bills or amendments to weaken or kill the FCC’s new
regulations. None succeeded. Then 11/9 happened.
Net neutrality, we hardly knew ye
Technology writer Larry Downes believes—to paraphrase Mark Twain—that reports
of net neutrality’s impending death are greatly exaggerated, and “the core
principles of enforceable net neutrality are in relatively little danger.”
He’s awfully lonesome in that rosy opinion.
Senator Ted Cruz labeled net neutrality “Obamacare for the internet.” And as
with the president’s signature health care law, most industry observers expect
net neutrality to be on the new administration’s chopping block.
“Net neutrality has a big target on its back,” Robert Kaminski, a telecom
analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, told The Washington Post.
Reading the (bitter) tea leaves
Donald Trump has said little (that makes sense) on the matter. When net
neutrality rules were proposed, he thundered—in a tweet, of course—that
“Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality
is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target the conservative media.” (Fact check: The
Fairness Doctrine—an FCC policy from the late ‘40s that said broadcasters must
present issues in an honest, equitable, and balanced way—was eliminated in
1987; it has nothing to do with net neutrality.)
“How keeping the internet accessible to everyone is somehow a power grab, or
how it will somehow oppress conservatives, is beyond us,” Wonkette opined at
An examination of the people Trump has brought aboard his transition team to
spearhead telecom issues does nothing to calm consumers’ fears: Senator Marsha
Blackburn is a staunch AT&T ally, and Jeffrey Eisenach has been a harsh critic
of both net neutrality and FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
While VP-elect Mike Pence made a big show this week of ridding the transition
team of lobbyists, that was a cover story for purging everyone connected to
Governor Chris Christie. Eisenach, who has worked for years on behalf of
Verizon, remains ensconced.
Pick your poison
The overwhelming consensus is that the Open Internet’s days are numbered. “They
could potentially blow everything up fairly quickly,” said an FCC official, who
spoke to The Washington Post on condition of anonymity.
The question is: Will it be dismembered or suffocated?
The FCC is directed by five commissioners appointed to five-year terms by the
president. The agency approved the current net neutrality rules along party
lines, with a 3-2 vote. But in 2017, President Trump will appoint two new
A Republican-majority FCC could vote to reclassify ISPs and remove Title II
from broadband markets entirely, cutting off net neutrality at the knees. But
that would be a slow and onerous process. “The agency would have to go through
another rule-making process, which would involve months or years of public
hearings and comment periods,” Bloomberg notes. Supporters of net neutrality
would almost certainly challenge any changes in court. And a federal court
decision that upheld the current regulations could further complicate the
Alternatively, Ars Technica points out, the FCC could decide to forbear from
the parts of Title II that were used to impose net neutrality rules, without
actually reversing broadband’s classification as a utility.
Even if the rules remain in place, it could simply decline to enforce
them--oblivion through neglect. The FCC, which investigates on a case-by-case
basis, last week warned AT&T that its zero-rating plan may be violating net
neutrality rules. But under a Republican-led FCC, AT&T would have little to
worry about: In a paper last year, Eisenach defended zero rating, writing that
“broad-based bans or restrictions on zero-rating plans are likely to be
counterproductive and harm consumer welfare.”
“Where we head now isn’t clear, but I think it’s fairly apparent that all of
the griping concerning usage caps and zero rating will likely seem downright
quaint in around three to six months,” TechDirt writes.
Bypassing the FCC altogether, the Republican-controlled Congress could pass new
federal laws. “Bills to [roll back net neutrality] have been floated in the
last several years but were essentially symbolic during the Obama years,”
One such bill proposed last year, called the Internet Freedom Act, would have
wiped out net neutrality rules entirely. “With the risk of a [president’s] veto
now gone, a legislative remedy now not only looks possible, but likely,” Craig
Moffett of MoffetNathanson Research wrote this week.
Ain’t hindsight great
Senator John Thune drafted a net neutrality bill last year that would have
prohibited blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, but would also have
prevented the FCC from using Title II to regulate broadband providers.
Democrats should have taken that deal, said Berin Szoka, president and founder
of advocacy group TechFreedom. “That was a colossal mistake on their part,”
Szoka told Ars Technica.
One element that could yet save net neutrality from Congressional action is
intraparty fratricide. “You have split factions among Republicans between
hardliners who want to eliminate all regulation or even get rid of the FCC, and
those who are not quite as psyched about that,” Harold Feld, senior vice
president of advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars Technica. “It’s easy to
go along with [a bill] when you’re not likely to get anything through, but when
you’re in charge … you have to make some decisions.”
There are also some that cling to hope because Trump himself is unpredictable.
While campaigning, he promised to block the merger of AT&T and Time Warner,
saying that big media companies already had too much power.
Senator Elizabeth Warren warned Trump in a letter this week: “During your
campaign for President of the United States, you railed against ‘powerful
special interests’ that have ‘rigged our political and economic system for
their exclusive benefit.’ … Now it is time to live up to those promises.”
Another long-shot possibility: Trump will appoint a wild-card commissioner to
the FCC. When Obama appointed Wheeler, a former cable lobbyist, it was widely
panned as a terrible choice. Net neutrality supporters can always hope for
another miracle conversion.
Failing all that and net neutrality rules fall, Karl Volkman, CTO of SRV
Large corporations will essentially dominate the internet, which means that
users will completely be at the whim of these companies—companies which already
have some of the lowest customer satisfaction ratings in the country. Not only
will these companies dominate the industry, they will also dictate what you can
access on the web. Large businesses will be able to pay cable providers top
dollar in return for high download speeds, while small businesses will
essentially be edged out. It is a lose-lose situation for everyone, except of
course, the monopolizing companies who will get to dominate every piece of the
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Caroline Craig is East Coast site editor for InfoWorld.
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