The Federal Register showed that the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules would come to an end on April 23, and now, that has come to pass. The killing blow entered the register on Thursday, February 22, stating that the FCC returns to the “light-touch regulatory scheme” that kept America’s public-accessed internet in check since the 1990s. As promised, this ruling went into effect on Monday, April 23. That means internet service providers (ISPs) no longer fall under the government-regulated “utility” umbrella.
“The Commission restores the classification of broadband internet access service as a lightly regulated information service and reinstates the private mobile service classification of mobile broadband internet access service.”
The demise of the FCC’s net neutrality rules doesn’t necessarily mean ISPs will go wild and start charging outrageous fees and throttle connections on a whim. They didn’t do that prior to the creation of the net neutrality rules, and likely won’t resort to evil plotting once the rules expire this spring. But the FCC does have a few leashes set in place to keep internet subscribers from quivering in their boots.
Called the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the regulation forces ISPs like Comcast to publicly provide their commercial terms of service. They must also keep the public informed about their network management practices and their performance characteristics. The FCC believes this level of transparency will protect the “openness” of the internet versus imposing rules that are “costly” rather than beneficial.
Yet there is still an uncertainty about what happens next. The big fear is that, with the net neutrality rules now eliminated, ISPs will start regulating internet traffic based on content and price. For instance, an ISP could provide its own video streaming service at full speed, but force Netflix to cough up extra cash if it wants customers to experience identical streaming speeds. That rise in cost would trickle down to subscribers.
This wasn’t a problem prior to the net neutrality rules, but streaming services are now more abundant, hence the fear that the services we use every day — especially for cord cutters — could end up costing more money now to access the same services they loved when net neutrality rules kept ISPs in check.
Hopefully, the FCC’s transparency push will help customers understand the pros and cons of what an ISP could offer. Right now, just getting the prices of the several different internet tiers provided via Charter’s Spectrum service feels like pulling teeth. It’s little details like price hiding that has internet surfers up in arms about any lack of regulation.
Many ISPs such as Comcast, Charter, and 16 other companies have already pledged not to block or throttle internet connections outside the piracy envelope. In the case that throttling and/or blocking does occur, they will be required to report the root cause. ISPs must also answer to the Federal Trade Commission, and the Department of Justice.
Though the net neutrality rules have become defunct, customers likely won’t see the aftermath for a few months. Yet with government agencies keeping a watchful eye, ISPs may stay on their best behavior.
Updated on April 24: The FCC’s net neutrality rules are officially no more.