Today, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) unveiled its plans to roll back net neutrality regulations, and if those plans are successful, we can say goodbye to the internet as we know it.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai (Chip Somodevilla / Getty)
Right now, as in Australia, paying for internet in the United States guarantees you free and open access to any website or service you'd like. You don't have to pay extra for access to your favourite websites, and you don't have to subscribe to additional services if you want more bandwidth for Xbox Live.
This parity doesn't happen because ISPs such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable are kind, charitable organisations - it happens because of net neutrality, or the principle that everything on the internet should be equally accessible. In 2015, after a long and protracted battle, the FCC implemented regulations that would prevent internet companies from violating net neutrality. Without those regulations, companies such as Verizon could bundle together internet websites like broadband plans, charging customers more for access to what they see as premium sites and content.
The Trump administration, never one to shy away from supporting billion-dollar corporations, wants to make that OK. Ajit Pai, chairman of the FCC and a former counsel at Verizon, today unveiled a plan to repeal those net neutrality rules, writing the following:
WASHINGTON, November 21, 2017 - Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai released the following statement on his draft Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which was circulated to his fellow Commissioners this morning and will be voted on at the FCC's Open Meeting on December 14:
"For almost twenty years, the Internet thrived under the light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress. This bipartisan framework led the private sector to invest $1.5 trillion building communications networks throughout the United States. And it gave us an Internet economy that became the envy of the world.
"But in 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. That decision was a mistake. It's depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.
"Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades. Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that's best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.
"Additionally, as a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Notably, my proposal will put the federal government's most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers' online privacy.
"Speaking of transparency, when the prior FCC adopted President Obama's heavy-handed Internet regulations, it refused to let the American people see that plan until weeks after the FCC's vote. This time, it will be different. Specifically, I will publicly release my proposal to restore Internet freedom tomorrow — more than three weeks before the Commission's December 14 vote.
"Working with my colleagues, I look forward to returning to the light-touch, market-based framework that unleashed the digital revolution and benefited consumers here and around the world."
The plan will go to vote on December 14, and is expected to pass thanks to a GOP-controlled commission. From there, perhaps there will be months and months of court battles, and perhaps everyone will be screwed. This could have global implications.
If you'd like to help fight this, even from Australia, here's a good place to start.