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State net neutrality rules are nothing more than a PR stunt – analyst

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We’ve found someone who has as little faith in the convictions and principles of politicians as we do!

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has faced an interesting twist in opposition following the reversal of net neutrality rules, as individual states look to navigate around the FCC’s position instead of combatting it. California, Washington, New York and Rhode Island are the states leading the charge for the moment, attempting to introduce their own net neutrality rules. But for Roslyn Layton of Strand Consult, it is nothing more than an attempt to cash in on the net neutrality euphoria.

“The efforts by the State AGs are largely window dressing and PR stunts,” said Layton. “Even if they did succeed, it’s not clear how they could enforce as they would have to isolate internet communications that originate within the same state to which they are destined.”

While politics has had a resurgence in popularity party thanks to more headline-friendly characters (President Trump in the US and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK) leading the charge, there are still corners filled with gruff voices, frustrated with the current state of play. You correspondent is one of them, and Layton seems to be venturing towards.

Some might genuinely have faith in the ambitions of these politicians, though from your correspondent’s perspective, the field has turned into nothing more than a reality TV show, with the quirky characters playing on the boredom of the general public, with alternative strategies to engage the apathetic voter.

Instead of hardy public servants with experience of their field and an determination to change the country for the better, the front-runners are now polished performers with expertise in smiling, handshaking and witty insults. Like John Sergeant during Strictly Come Dancing’s 2008 series, the public are voting for the people who upset the status quo with entertainment, not the most qualified.

Legal precedent is not on the side of the states in the net neutrality debacle either. Written into the communications act is a clause which explicitly states localised regulations cannot contradict that of the FCC. Considering internet traffic rarely originates or stays in the locality, you could also argue the is no logical basis to set rules in one state. Surely it has to be national?

That said, with the digital economy, we are venturing into unchartered areas of the map. Many of these challenges are being faced for the first time, so there is little directly relevant precedent, if any!

“It is possible that the Supreme Court will remand the case back to the Circuit Court and that would supersede any issues from the state AGs, Internet Association etc., so too soon to tell,” said Layton. “The FCC has asked for an extension in replying to the Supreme Court’s request for more information.

“We will know more in April.  The FCC has tried to bulletproof the order from legal challenge. The order increased from 200 pages to roughly 500. This indicates that they are anticipating all the blowback.”

And while this is a laser-focused issue in the US for the moment, there could ripples sent elsewhere. Net neutrality has been little more than a murmur in other markets around the world, but it is slowly gathering momentum. Europe is starting to have more of a conversation, and the debate is certainly starting to pick up in India.

“I expect this to have repercussions, particularly in the countries that have had net neutrality rules on the books for years with nothing to show for it, e.g. more investment, more innovation,” said Layton.

“The operators have a proof point that rules can be rolled back without harm to consumers, and indeed prices may well fall. It will be hard for regulators to justify a status quo with higher prices.

“Most important, I believe the US market will become more competitive as a result of the rollback, and this will be measured in more equitable market shares across providers.”

It certainly is a contentious issue, one which could damage reputations, or even enhance them, as you might see from the ‘ambulance-chaser’ politicians cashing in on the sentiment. One thing is for certain, it won’t be the last you hear about net neutrality, and it definitely won’t be long before another self-righteous, egotistical, selfish PR-quip is laid on thick by a shallow, glory-chasing, immaculately-polished public figure.


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