The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to repeal net neutrality rules, The New York Times reported. Deregulation of broadband companies, like AT&T and Comcast, means that the telecom giants could potentially block certain websites or charge consumers higher prices for some content.
The 3-to-2 vote by the Republican majority reverses its 2015 decision during President Barack Obama’s administration. Social activist groups, free speech advocates and companies that stream content online opposed the decision to end net neutrality. They are vowing to challenge the decision in court.
The Federal Communications Commission released a proposal on Tuesday that would make sweeping changes to Obama-era regulations that require broadband companies like Verizon and AT&T to provide customers with equal access to the internet, but under the change would now allow them to charge users more for certain content, the Washington Post reported.
“From start-up companies to public educational programs to government, paid fast lanes will discriminate in concerning ways. Big telecommunications monopolies shouldn’t be able to price information out of the market simply because they are big. If we care about a free market economy, and equal opportunity, we must demand net neutrality,” said Maya Wiley, the senior vice president for social justice at The New School.
The goal of net neutrality is to ensure that internet providers treat all traffic on the Web equally by not creating pricing systems that discriminate against content from small companies or organizations. It also ensures that internet providers like Comcast, which owns NBC Universal, don’t favor their own content over competitors’ content. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, is fulfilling a Republican agenda to rescind the Obama-era rule and deregulate the giant telecommunications companies that control the internet’s infrastructure.
By dismantling net neutrality rules, the telecom giants could allow high speed downloads only to devices that utilize their services, Wiley warns. What’s more, the merger of telecom and content provider companies (such as the embattled merger between AT&T with Time Warner Cable) provides an incentive for the telecom giants to provide better streaming service for their own content and reduce the download speed of competitors that utilize their internet infrastructure. Several tech companies, including Amazon, Spotify, Google and Facebook, oppose rescinding net neutrality because they don’t control the infrastructure. The rule change would also harm activists who depend on social media to get out messages. In the future, giant telecom companies could become the gatekeepers for information and entertainment.
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