The head of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is gearing up to finally kill net neutrality and plans to do so before the end of the year.
Sources told Reuters the FCC’s chairman, Ajit Pai, nominated by US president Donald Trump, is going to unveil plans next week to reverse the 2015 net neutrality order installed by the Obama administration. This re-classified internet services providers (ISPs) as if they were utilities and ensured that an open internet was accessible to all.
The protections meant that ISPs couldn’t block websites or impose limits on users depending on their content. This would prevent differentiation in how accessible the internet was to people under different ISPs.
It wasn’t an easy fight for Obama. Throughout his presidential campaign, he promised he would enshrine net neutrality when he was in office. Weeks before the FCC was going to adopt net neutrality rules however, Verizon Communications filed a federal lawsuit to overturn the order. The battle went to the federal court of appeals which fully upheld the FCC guidelines in 2016.
In 2014, Obama said:
“I personally, the position of my administration, as well as a lot of the companies here, is that you don’t want to start getting a differentiation in how accessible the Internet is to different users. You want to leave it open so the next Google and the next Facebook can succeed.”
What’s the FCC done to net neutrality so far?
Earlier this year, the FCC voted 2-1 to advance Pai’s plan to withdraw the Obama administration’s ruling.
Companies such as Google and Netflix argue that without net neutrality, ISPs would gain significant influence over free market activities on the internet. It would encourage websites to compete against one another and pay for prioritisation. They argue it would monopolise content provision.
However, the government argument focuses on terrorism. Both the UK and the US governments oppose net neutrality became they claim the state should be able to filter information to prevent radicalism.
Republicans, in particular, believe that neutrality stifles innovation because of burdensome regulation. And we all know what Republicans think about regulation.
It seems likely that the FCC is going to roll back the US net neutrality guidelines and it seems likely it will succeed.
Rolling back net neutrality is just what the FCC is doing under Pai
A vote taking place today is regarding the 42-year-old ban on cross-ownership of a newspaper and a TV station in a major market in the US. Pai wants to roll back this legislation, so it can make it easier for media companies to buy more TV stations in the market.
As well, Pai is likely to call a vote later this year to disband with the rule that says one company may not own stations serving more than 39 percent of US television households.
If these votes go Pai’s way it will serve to benefit one major television company: Sinclair Broadcast group.
The right-wing leaning TV company is planning to merge with another company, Tribune, but is held back by this 39 percent rule. Sinclar is already the largest owner of local television stations in the US, owning 193 stations, but with a $3.9bn takeover of Tribune, it would get even bigger.
Last month, Tribune’s shareholders voted in favour of the deal however it requires approval by the FCC. If the FCC approves the merger, this will give Sinclair access to 72 percent of all TV-owning households in the US.
Forget Breitbart News, this merger would dynamically change the media landscape in the US.