The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to start a process that could lead to a roll back of the net neutrality rules it had adopted in 2015. The vote means that the proposal put forward in April by Chairman Ajit Pai to overturn the classification of broadband providers and utility carriers is now an official FCC proposal, open for public comment until August. The proposal also envisions the repealing of a rule that allows the Commission to investigate business models of Internet providers that might be uncompetitive. And there is also a question raised as to whether the FCC should eliminate the rule that prohibits the blocking or slowing down of traffic. After the public comment period, the proposal can be modified, before being put to a final vote in the Commission. Although Pai has previously said that he favors an open Internet, it remains to be seen what will happen with the 2015 net neutrality rules. Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who voted against the plan, said that it ’jeopardizes the ability of the open Internet to function tomorrow, as it does today’.
The Internet’s success lies in its design, which is based on the principle of net neutrality. From the outset, the flow of all the content on the Internet was treated without discrimination. New entrepreneurs did not need permission or market power to innovate on the Internet. With the development of new digital services, especially the ones consuming high bandwidth such as high-quality video streaming, some Internet operators (telecom companies and ISPs) started prioritising certain traffic – such as their own services or the services of their business partners – based on business needs and plans, justifying such an approach with a need to raise funds to further invest in the network. Net neutrality proponents strongly fight back such plans arguing this could limit open access to information and online freedoms, and stifle online innovation.