Written by : ANDREW GRIFFIN
The US government is going to end net neutrality, a fundamental principle of how the internet works.
Net neutrality is the idea that all internet traffic is treated the same. But the new ruling will allow internet service providers to block or slow access to specific websites, and allow them to charge for those limits to be lifted.
The Federal Communications Commission, under the direction of Donald Trump, has said that it will repeal a law that banned internet service providers from interfering with what people see on the internet and how easy it is to view. Chairman Arjit Pai, who was appointed by Mr Trump, said that the protections stopped internet companies from doing what they wanted and were an unnecessary restriction.
As such, it violates a principle that has been in place ever since the internet began: that no particular website or service can receive special treatment from the companies that power the web. Instead, service providers will be allowed to charge websites to load quicker, for instance, or force their users to pay extra if they want to access certain pages.
Those sorts of restrictions are what led many of the world’s biggest internet companies to back net neutrality in a series of protests. Most recently, a whole host of websites – including Google, Netflix, Facebook and Reddit – went dark in protest at what they believe will happen to them if the rules are repealed.
Those actions were opposed by telecoms providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon, all of whom supported the repeal of the law. The restrictions were hindering the development of a free market in internet connections and service, they claimed.
Many of those companies own their own services, as well as providing the internet connections themselves, and the rules keep them from using them to benefit each other.
Mr Trump has been opposed to the principle since 2014, believing Barack Obama’s efforts to enshrine it in law were simple a “power grab”. He has made a series of strange comments about the internet, including a commitment to “close it up” and talk to Bill Gates, as well as claiming that it needs to be “cut off”.
The FCC’s decision will now be almost certainly approved when it is voted on in December, and roll back a 2015 law that forced internet companies to be regulated like public utilities. It will include specific rules that stop states or cities from getting around the rule and instituting their own principles.
Mr Pai has sent round preliminary versions of his plans to the FCC members who will vote on them next month. He plans to distribute more details publicly on Wednesday.