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The FCC just voted to undo net neutrality—so what happens now?

The FCC just voted to undo net neutrality—so what happens now?
Federal Communications Commission Chairman, Ajit Pai [Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images]

Despite predictions, there was some surprise at the FCC today when the hearing room was briefly evacuated due to a threat. But from a policy perspective, there was no surprise. The Republican-majority FCC voted to undo the net neutrality regulations put in place by the previous Democrat-majority FCC.

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So what happens now? “People want to know, what changes when the gavel falls? Well, everything and nothing,” says Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, an organization that’s already planning to sue over today’s vote. That won’t happen this week or next, though—not until the FCC publishes its order in the coming weeks.

Nor will ISP’s likely change their practices immediately. “I don’t suspect that it will change on a dime,” says Denelle Dixon, chief legal and business officer for Mozilla—a company that may also sue. “Like the minute that the decision comes in will everybody start throttling and blocking? Probably not, but it is a process that is going to happen over time,” she says.

Or not. Much was made of Comcast removing a statement on its site that it would never charge extra for providing “fast lanes” to internet sites for better bandwidth. But yesterday it put out a blog post affirming that original promise not to do that. Once the rules come into effect, though, it’s up to Comcast and other ISPs whether or not they sell fast lanes.

While the legal challenges plod along over months and months, Congress will get involved much sooner. Over a hundred members of Congress, including a handful of Republicans, had called on the FCC to cancel today’s vote due to sketchy developments—like  millions of phony public comments being submitted.

And today, Marsha Blackburn, chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, announced that she will introduce net neutrality legislation next week. “We will codify the need for no blocking, no throttling, and making certain that we preserve that free and open internet.”

Notice that she didn’t mention fast lanes? Expect a big, messy, partisan fight on net neutrality in Congress, just like so many other political fights over the past years.

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