Net Neutrality Rules Replaced by “Light Touch” Regulation

A few weeks ago, reports circulated that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) was set to repeal the net-neutrality rules implemented during the Obama administration. Today, the votes are in, and the result is 3-2 in favor of a repeal.

Net-neutrality rules govern how broadband Internet providers dole out bandwidth. The purpose of the repealed net-neutrality rules was to ensure that ISPs don’t favor some websites over others, with the goal of making delivery of Internet services more like a utility.

With the repeal of the rules a done deal, it is now hypothetically possible that specific Internet service providers will be able to offer preferential treatment for properties that they own, versus those of their competitors. A hypothetical example would be Comcast or AT&T providing greater bandwidth to streaming services associated with studios and websites that they own. It could even lead to situations where an ISP charges more for access to some sites—for example, a surcharge on accessing Netflix or YouTube.

Replacing the net-neutrality rules are what the FCC is calling “light touch” regulations. The premise is that less government regulation will bolster private investment in high-speed Internet infrastructure.

Currently, there is a global transition away from physical media. This change in policy needs to be watched carefully, lest consumers get the short end of the stick. The key is competition—if consumers shop around for the best deal when getting their entertainment from the cloud, then there could be benefits. Despite the alarmist article some have chosen to write—the virtual sky is falling!—whether regulation or deregulation provides the greater advantage to consumers is an open-ended question. After all, the Internet existed before these rules were put in place only two years ago.

Anyhow, as with any deregulation, vigilance and demanding accountability from your government representatives remain necessities.