The battle for network neutrality: two and a half years Net Neutrality

On April 23, the current US neutrality rules will be finally repealed.

As this day draws nearer, relations between the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), which voted to cancel, and opponents of this decision, are heating up more and more. Now the FCC in court is opposed by dozens of parties, including technology companies, individuals and even entire states. In anticipation of a transition to a new era without network neutrality, we propose returning to the history of the issue. Earlier, we had already traced the origins of network neutrality, talked about the first local conflicts between authorities and operators, and turned to serious protests and courts .

Now let's pay attention to the short period during which the rules were in force in the USA.

/ Flickr / Free Press / CC BY

The short era of network neutrality

2015 has come. FCC was in an uncertain position. Tom Wheeler, “a proponent of cable companies,” remained Commissioner. He was appointed to the post by President Obama, who expressed support for the ideas of network neutrality. In January, Wheeler chose the side - during CES-2015, he announced a reclassification of the activities of Internet providers. This meant that the position of the FCC coincided with the requirements of supporters of net neutrality.

The first important date in the history of the issue in 2015 is February 26th. On this day, the Commission voted , according to the results of which in the United States the approach that had been valid until recently was established. FCC members voted to reclassify broadband and, as the pro-active organization Public Knowledge noted, “against blocking and discrimination.”

The new rules proclaimed a ban on:

  • blocking legal applications, services, devices;
  • slowdown of any applications or services;
  • Paid provision of a priority channel to any applications or services.

Advocates of net neutrality achieved their goal, but Republicans and Internet service providers remained on the side of the opponents of the new rules , so the conflict was not settled.

For starters, telecommunications companies made an attempt to negotiate with the FCC. The rules were approved in February, but several months remained before the entry into force, during which major providers proposed stopping the reclassification. The companies already agreed with the three main prohibitions and, as it might seem, were looking for a compromise. The commission was adamant. As Arstechnica wrote, providers could not convince the FCC that they could really win in court.

The US Telecommunications Association, however, sued the FCC when the dialogue came to a standstill. Representatives called the new rules "arbitrariness and whim." Gigi Sohn, head of Public Knowledge and an advocate for the FCC at the time, said litigation after the vote was “inevitable,” so the providers ’move was no surprise.

In June 2015, the Federal Court rejected attempts by telecommunications companies to halt reclassification, and the rules of net neutrality came into force. However, this did not stop the opponents of the idea in political and commercial circles - litigation continued. Hearings in the District Court of Appeal scheduled at the end of the year. The future of the Internet depended on them - judges at that moment could reverse the decisions of the FCC. For three hours, the defense of the Commission proved its right to reclassification. The court relied on the landmark Brand X decision of 2005, which allowed the FCC to choose the classification on its own, but the judges doubted that the wireless and broadband services were “functionally equivalent.”

The hearing ended and a final decision was made. only six months later. On June 14, 2016, the Federal Court of Appeal fully upheld the rules of net neutrality. This was the third time that the FCC had to defend the principles of “equitable Internet” in court. From now on, both wired and wireless operators were equal before the rules of network neutrality. Despite the fact that there was still another court ahead, the June decision was called "the ultimate victory of net neutrality."

Beginning of the end of network neutrality

Telecommunications companies went to court again in July - this time to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Their request remained the same: to repeal the rules prohibiting restrict or regulate access to services and sites. Vice president of telecommunications giant AT&T said: “We always believed that this issue will be resolved by the Supreme Court, and we look forward to participating in the appeal.”

Along with this, Barack Obama’s presidential term was coming to an end, and preparations for the election were in full swing. . In November, the people of the United States elected Donald Trump, a member of the Republican Party, who opposed the FCC decision, as head of state. One month after the election, Tom Wheeler, chairman of the Commission, which adopted the rules of net neutrality, resigned ahead of schedule .

The media began to speculate about the future of the FCC, suggesting that the new head of the Commission will be a person who shares the views of the Republicans. FCC member Ajit Pai, known for his criticism of net neutrality, was named the likely candidate for the post. And so it happened - in January, by the decision of Trump, Pye was appointed Chairman of the Commission.

/ Wikipedia / Federal Communications Commission / CC
Pye stands for Free Market. The rules adopted by Democrats in recent years, he called "weeds that hinder investment, innovation and job creation." In 2015, he voted against the adoption of the rules and remained consistent in relation to the issue.

A month after taking office, Ajit Pai publicly stated that network neutrality was “a mistake” and the Commission was ready to return to a much freer style of regulating the industry. Pai introduced a detailed plan in April. It became known that the FCC will abandon the classification adopted in 2015 and, possibly, the remaining established principles.

A few weeks earlier, representatives of technology companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon met with Ajit Pai to express their support for network neutrality and to maintain it. However, the Commission chose a different development vector.

As two years earlier , the public reacted sharply to the actions of the FCC. The host of the evening show, John Oliver, again recalled the threat of abandoning the rules of network neutrality (he first did it on air in 2014). Users again staged an online protest , flooding the Commission's website with comments. A petition in defense of net neutrality has collected over 2 million signatures.

Despite the fact that US residents, technology companies and initiative groups actively expressed their disagreement with the FCC policy, by November it was ready draft revocation of 2015 rule. It was proposed to consider broadband not as telecommunication, but as an information service, and the three established prohibitions lost their force. Ajit Pai said that “the Internet was all right in 2015”, and he did not need any additional regulation. On December 14, 2017, most members of the Commission supported this view and voted to abolish the rules of net neutrality.

Agit Pye stated that "Americans will still have access to the sites they want to visit and the services they want to use." However, not everyone shares the optimism of the chairman of the Commission. We will discuss what has changed with the FCC decision in the next article.

Related articles from the VAS Experts corporate blog:

Previous parts of the Battle of Net Neutrality story: