Let the net neutrality lawsuits begin

Three weeks after the vote, the FCC has finally released the final net neutrality repeal order to the public. What we can expect now is a lot of PR posturing and lawsuits.

You can have a read of the full document here, though we should warn you there are few changes from the draft which has been around since November. There are of course a few edits, once a motion has been passed the FCC does not need to gather support for edits relating to issues raised by the Commissioners, but no massive surprises.

In short, the legacy of former-FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has been erased, and the US has returned to the light-touch regulatory landscape of 2014. Due to developments in terms of traffic prioritization, data throttling and ‘censorship’, transparency commitments for the telcos have been written into the document, but this is nothing more than a nod to the loudest moaners. It doesn’t prevent the telcos in any particular way, just ensures that they have to tell the consumer about it.

The language is very glorious and there is plenty of claimed justification, but let’s look at this document for what it really is. It is essentially a blank cheque from the FCC to the telcos. Utility-style regulation is gone to grant the freedoms of the past. In short, there are fewer people keeping an eye on whether the telcos are doing anything dodgy.

As with everything in the US, there is no middle-ground, which perhaps explains the lawsuit culture. Net neutrality probably went too heavy-handed on the regulation, while this is maybe an overcorrection by the Republicans. And before too long, we should expect kick-back from the industry, leading the FCC into the court-room.

“Going forward, our broadband providers will have the power to block websites, throttle services, and censor online content,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. “This is not right.

“To make matters worse, the FCC’s broken and corrupted process for reaching this decision demonstrated extraordinary contempt for public input. In this decision, the FCC is on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public. It deserves to be revisited, re-examined, and ultimately reversed.”

Her colleague on the left-side of the FCC aisle, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, was perhaps a bit disturbed by the document, as you can see below:

The decision to reverse any and all rules concerning net neutrality has been a bitter battle between the two camps, though it has seemingly got personal.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has cancelled his keynote session at CES in Las Vegas, with sources stating he has received death threats following the decision to erase net neutrality. The FCC has refused to comment on the situation, though ReCode claims to have spoken to two sources from the agency itself. Such threats hamper the FCC’s ability to defend its position on the matter, so we are likely to see heightened frustrations from net neutrality supporters over the silence forced on Pai. He’ll take some flak for not addressing the growing chaos, so you have to have some sympathy for him.

While the seriousness of this claim should not be underplayed whatsoever, it should also be worth noting Pai very rarely discusses net neutrality in a public or neutral setting. Since his appointment to the top job at the FCC, media interviews have been limited to friendly (right leaning) media outlets, while speaking opportunities in public forums are often cancelled last minute. Pai very rarely takes the opportunity to engage in open and useful debate on the topic.

Over the next couple of weeks we are likely to see an army of lawyer materialise. Whether it is from the internet giants, Democratic party supporters or consumer groups, the lawsuits will start to fly before too long, as you can see below, the groundwork for public support is already being laid:


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