Yesterday’s decision by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to repeal the net neutrality rules inspired one of our Project Advisors, Melinda Jacobs to share her opinion on the impact of these changes on inclusive growth and the digital economy.
An inclusive digital economy requires access to the internet and the free flow of information. These conditions have now been compromised. Yesterday, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) of the United States repealed net neutrality. Put simply, net neutrality is the equal treatment of all internet traffic without throttling, control or other oversight by government or internet providers. Sometimes this is referred to as the “open internet,” and it allows users to have uninhibited access to lawful online content.
The FCC has been advocating for net neutrality for over ten years, culminating in the regulations introduced in 2015. The December 13th ruling was not a replacement of these rules, it was a repeal – once it is enacted, it will leave issues of internet access in the hands of commercial broadband providers who have fiduciary responsibilities to maximize profits.
Unlike cable television, when you buy internet access you get access to everything on the internet. Internet service providers (ISPs) are not allowed to discriminate among customers in the way that cable television is able to package what channels you have access to. The repeal of net neutrality will give broadband providers the ability to block or prioritize internet content (controlling what sites you can and cannot visit, regardless of their legality). They will also have the opportunity to create tiers of internet access, or “slow” and “fast” lanes. By controlling internet speed and impacting user experience, broadband providers will have more control in shaping consumer preferences and suppressing competition.