With the release on Tuesday of Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to roll back Obama-era net neutrality regulations, the fear mongering has resumed.
In April, when Pai first suggested repealing the 2015 Open Internet Order that imposed those regulations, he sparked similar hysteria, leading one month later to a John Oliver segment condemning the proposed deregulation. Oliver prompted viewers to go to the FCC’s website and post comments expressing their disapproval of Pai’s plan, and so many answered the call that they actually crashed the FCC’s website.
As of press time, Pai’s Wikipedia page describes him as “a bought-and paid for corporate shill for the telecom monopolists, who’s [sic] dicks he sucks for money.”
Clearly there’s a lot of animosity surrounding this issue, and honestly I don’t blame people. If net neutrality, which forbids internet service providers (ISPs) to prioritize some forms of content over others, were as important as it’s been made out to be, any amount of anger would be justified. Without net neutrality rules, we’ve been told, ISPs would be able to stifle competition, decide which websites we can view, and even slow down our Netflix streaming.
If the government took away my guns, I probably wouldn’t fight back, but come after my Netflix, and straight to the barricades I’ll go.
Despite these popular beliefs, however, the demise of the FCC’s net neutrality rules does not mean the end of the internet. Instead of returning to the pre-internet dark ages, we’ll be returning to 2015, the year the FCC implemented the current regulations. Remember 2015? The internet wasn’t so bad in 2015, was it?
The New York Times blatantly ignored that timeline when they reported that “[c]ompanies like Etsy and Pinterest, for example, credit their start to the promise of free and open access on the internet.” The problem with this statement is that both Etsy (2005) and Pinterest (2009) were founded before the FCC imposed a far less extreme form of net neutrality in 2010, and well before more stringent rules were implemented in 2015.
Before the FCC imposed these rules, ISPs mostly already followed net neutrality principles, and internet users could rely on the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Justice and state Attorneys General to protect them from unscrupulous ISPs.
Pai’s goal isn’t to create a lawless internet so the telecom giants can set up a dystopian oligarchy. He simply believes that the FCC can encourage online innovation and fair play without overregulating the internet under 1934 rules originally written to address telephone monopolies.
This is not a radical move by any measure, and any hysteria over the FCC decision is completely unwarranted.