The inauguration of Donald Trump brought many departures from the policies of Barack Obama. A big one is Obama’s stand on net neutrality and it could be the next to fall.
In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission enacted new rules regulating the three US Internet service providers – Comcast, Cox and Charter — as utilities. This move required the three ISPs to treat information passing through a network equally.
Under the FCC’s net neutrality regulations, ISPs are prohibited from blocking content from websites, slowing down content from websites, or accepting money from websites to speed up their content.
“These rules made it so that no matter how rich and powerful a corporation is — and Apple and Google are the biggest corporations on Earth, and Microsoft and Facebook aren’t far behind — they can’t buy priority access to the Internet,” writes Quincy Larson, a teacher at freeCodeCamp in an article about net neutrality.
One caveat: Larson isn’t exactly a dispassionate observer. He says AT&T and other media giants have been pushing an “evil plan” to reverse Obama’s net neutrality rules.
Larson notes that ISPs oppose net neutrality because it bars them from charging website owners a fee for speeding up their websites. But allowing them to do so would be disastrous for all those website owners who can’t afford such a fee, Larson argues.
Research shows that slowing down a website by as little as 250 milliseconds will make most people lose patience and navigate to another site. By slowing down certain websites just a tiny bit, ISPs can essentially shut off traffic to these sites and stifle the site owner’s ability to attract business or donations.
Ajit Pai, Trump’s new FCC chairman and a former lawyer for telecommunications giant Verizon, has spoken in favor of repealing the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality regulations. Larson and others fear that if the Trump administration follows through, the Internet would change from an open, “sprawling bazaar” to a landscape of closed-data “walled gardens.”
With half of all Internet traffic today coming from just 30 websites, companies like Facebook and Google already exert huge sway over which websites people view. In Larson’s view, public activism in favor of strong net neutrality protections represents the only way media consumers can preserve the Internet as an open information forum where every website has an equal opportunity to attract visitors.