How a Trump Victory Upended the Fight for Net Neutrality
Net neutrality has long been a goal of those concerned about high-quality internet access being throttled by companies with the resources to pay for premium access. T-Mobile allowed consumers to get around data caps on their plans when accessing content from specific providers. Netflix paid out top dollar to cable companies to give customers the best streaming quality on broadband infrastructure.
That prompted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to adopt new net neutrality rules in 2015. These regulations required internet service providers (ISPs) to allow equal access to their services at reasonable prices the same way a telephone company must, effectively rendering them as a new type of utility. ISPs including AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon challenged the ruling in court, arguing that the rules placed an unfair burden on them. They were dealt a blow in June 2016 when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals voted to uphold the FCC’s decision. Net neutrality proponents saw this ruling as the end of their fight. Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory turned that certainty into doubt.
The first inkling of how a Trump administration would handle net neutrality came in the makeup of the transition team put in place for the FCC. Members included Jeffrey Eisenach, a long-time opponent of any internet regulation. After his inauguration in January, President Trump appointed Ajit Pai as the new FCC chairman. Pai (initially appointed to the FCC by President Barack Obama) voted against the 2015 rules. He echoed ISP arguments that the laws prevented investment in much-needed broadband infrastructure and stifled innovation. The Pai-led FCC followed through on that thought process in May 2017 by voting to roll back the 2015 rules.
Companies like Facebook, Google, and Netflix organized a “Day Of Action” online protest on July 12 geared towards fighting the FCC’s attempts to stifle net neutrality. Apple argued that internet access should be up to consumers, not companies like itself. AT&T, in turn, proclaimed that there has never been a level playing field when it came to the internet. Comcast denied ever throttling internet access based on payment, pointing to innovations in its delivery platform and a recent change allowing customers to access Netflix from their Xfinity platform.
Consumers feel the effects of unfettered corporate monopolies with cable companies pushing out local competition, limiting consumer choices in their area that might provide more affordability. The same situation threatens to overtake the ability of people to get quality internet connections at reasonable prices, with new companies unable to afford premium access.
The FCC continues its work finalizing new rules around the handling of internet access. It’s unlikely that any new regulations will address the concerns of net neutrality proponents. It remains to be seen whether the confidence in the ability of the free market to govern itself will prove correct, or if the fears of limited high-level internet access end up playing out.