On the 14th of December the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted to scrap regulations protecting net neutrality in America. In a 3-2 vote, the commission repealed the rules, which had been introduced by the Obama administration in 2015 to replace the patchwork of authorisations that had previously regulated the internet. The FCC decision has been met with massive backlash from individuals and companies alike. Furthermore, in response to the decision numerous states vowed to introduce state-wide net neutrality protection.
What is Net Neutrality
Net neutrality is an Obama administration legislation around internet protection. Net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers must treat all data on the Internet the same, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, website, platform, application, type of attached equipment, or method of communication. For instance, under these principles, internet service providers are unable to intentionally block, slow down or charge money for specific websites and online content.
During his time as president, Barack Obama introduced the Open Internet Order, which required that internet service providers (ISPs) have to uphold the principles of net neutrality. In the UK the net neutrality principle is active in British law courtesy of the European Union's Regulation on Open Internet Access, although the UK already did have a voluntary system before this.
What does the change in Net Neutrality mean
The decision to repeal net neutrality was down to Ajit Pai. Mr. Pai has had a long career in government, roughly 15 years, he’s been a Senate staffer and worked at both the FCC and the Department of Justice (DOJ). He was also a lawyer for telecommunications giant, Verizon and an attorney at the law firm Jenner & Block. He was the Associate General Counsel at Verizon Communications for two years.
Mr. Pai has maintained that the FCC, under former Chairman Thomas Wheeler, had “overstepped its bounds” and the Commission has to take a “weed whacker” to “unnecessary regulations” that hold back investment and innovation. One such change in regulation was the decision to reclassify broadband internet as an information service rather than telecommunications, meaning that the FCC will no longer be directly responsible to regulate ISPs.
When looking at the decision to repeal net-neutrality, analysts believe that Mr. Pai’s policies have been more favourable to the phone, cable and broadcasting industries rather than to Silicon Valley. One of the early decisions of Mr. Pai as the Chairman was cancelling a proposal to open the cable box market to tech giants such as Amazon and Google, saying the “days of set-top boxes are numbered”, Mr. Pai believes the changes are "restoring internet freedom".
The change in net neutrality will enable the major network providers to have monopoly power over people’s access to information - big cable companies will be able to have control over what we see and do online. When net neutrality becomes obsolete what can be expected to change – the answer is not much. Some people were scared that large swaths of the internet suddenly becoming unavailable or only offered for a fee – however, this is not the case, internet providers will likely continue to explore subtler methods of advantaging themselves and their partners, such as offering data to use certain services for free or speeding up delivery of their own content.
With the tech industries already buzzing around the use of algorithms, insight and analytics to provide clearer understanding of consumer habits, it is likely that service providers will begin to use these methods to find an advantage over their competition.
Future start-ups looking to provide Internet will certainly be put at a disadvantage, with the likes of Google and Facebook having so much buying power, they simply won’t be able to keep up, and with the new rules allowing these power-houses to favour their own services it could be time to say goodbye to the idea of real competition from small firms. With so many organisations jostling to get their products in front of would-be customers, the likelihood is that the biggest firm wins, under new rules the customer may not even know that there was any other option. Mr Pai argues, the changes will bring about innovation and encourage ISPs to invest in faster connections for people living in rural areas – Only time will tell.
The power of data
Data is increasingly important to organisations. Data helps to drive smarter working, better decisions and when used in the right way can be aligned to meet business goals. From the perspective of a data subject (the person whom data is concerning), it’s important to understand how and where your data may be in use; 2017 saw millions of people become victims of various data breaches. In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) will come into force in Europe, changing the way that organisations protect and process data. This will include giving data subjects the right to deny organisations the chance to use their data (consent) and to have data held on them erased.
To find out about upcoming changes to data protection laws in the UK and Europe and understand how the General Data Protection Regulation affects your organisation, get the white paper here.