The current US President Donald Trump’s warrant has been the subject of controversy since its begining. The afternoon of Nov. 21 was no different with the announcement by the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Ajit Pai, that the Trump government wants to change the rules governing net neutrality in the country – signed in 2015, during the Obama administration. The FCC’s arguments for withdrawing net neutrality are to ensure greater market competitiveness and “let consumers decide who wins and loses,” as stated by Pai.
Federal Communications Comission (FCC)
It is undeniable that the United States pioneered in Internet-related topics, since one of the Internet’s origins is linked to military institutions and research agencies in the country. The widespread impact of Internet access and the growing number of devices connected to it – even by the recent phenomenon of the Internet of Things – influence not only the American economy and society, but also the rest of the world.
One of the researches that substantiates this claim was conducted by the Pew Research Center, which documented 15 years of Internet usage patterns by American users, and statistically proved that 1 in 10 American adults use the Internet. Thus, it was necessary to regulate the uses and consequences of the Internet. However, Congress has not yet defined a broadband law or general aspects of the network, but gives the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) the power to do so.
It is important to remember that the FCC in the United States has greater autonomy and power to determine the directions of the Internet in the country than, for example, ANATEL (National Telecommunications Agency) has in Brazil. This is due to the US legal system – Common Law – in which, unlike our Civil Law, the formal regulations is just one of several forms of Law, not as important as in our country. Thus, the US legal system does not force its legislators to hurry to establish positive Internet guidelines – how the Brazilian Internet Bill of Rights (Law no. 12.965 / 2014) works in Brazil – and the commands emanated by the competent institutions on the subject sufficient for the maintenance of the digital environment in the country.
The FCC is made up of five commissioners nominated by the US president and approved by the Senate, forming an independent agency, though it is overseen by the Congress. For the formulation, amendment or revocation of rules, the agency in question adopts the “notice and comment” process, which consists of communicating the FCC legislative intentions and seeking comments from the general public and the Advisory Board (which present technical and theoretical contributions) and subsequent submission of the final rule to Congress, in accordance with the Congressional Review Law. The FCC website clearly details the Commission’s gestational structure and model. It should be noted that, although the population is consulted prior to the adoption of measures by the FCC, this does not negate the fact that its composition is inevitably chosen through an undemocratic process, which may end up reducing popular representation in the body, resulting in the application of clearly tendentious measures to the society sector that has strength in the Institution – opening possibility for the control of the same by lobbies of big corporations.
The FCC’s proposal earlier this week proves just that, being the exact opposite of the Obama-approved regulation. The regulation that runs from 2015 until today allocates access providers such as telecommunication companies and non-service providers and prohibits the provision of different Internet speeds for certain services or subscription charges and extra charges to obtain higher network quality on a given platform. Tom Wheeler, president of the Federal Commission at the time, said the regulation was aimed at “the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the organization”. Already in 2015, Ajit Pai (current president of the FCC, nominated by Donald Trump) has turned against net neutrality, potentially favoring the major providers of access and application.
Specifically, the FCC has proposed:
- The reintroduction of the “information service” classification of the broadband Internet access service.
- The establishment that mobile broadband is not a “commercial mobile service” subject to strict regulation.
- The attribution to the Federal Trade Commission of competence to police the privacy practices of ISPs.
The comment period for the proposal ended in August and amounted to 22 million contributions. However, both the receipt of comments and the use of this method to guarantee the construction of a democratic regulation was widely questioned, as pointed out by Jacob Kastrenakes, which reinforces what was presented above. The Commission will vote on the proposal on 14 December 2017.
Arguments regarding internet neutrality
IRIS has already written about the concepts, importance and problems related to network neutrality. The content can be accessed here. As stated in this post, at the time, one of the arguments raised by the FCC for the maintenance of network neutrality was the guarantee of greater market competitiveness, since, without the unequal handling of data packets in the network, all providers – both access and application – would have equal chances of success, with the existence of a true “free digital market”
Nowadays, proponents of the fall of net neutrality argue that the lack of an obligation to ensure equal access to the internet in content for all makes it possible for consumers to pay only for what they consume on the Internet, which makes possible the offer of better prices for the end users. However, such an ideology does not take into account that such practices may result in the alienation of the consumer base through payments or agreements between large application providers and access providers in order to obtain advantages over their competitors in struggle to remain relevant in the digital market.
It is important to note that the positioning of the market and corporations is not homogeneous, since Google and Netflix, for example, support neutrality rules because they believe that “operators could worsen the quality of access to online services, to extract money from sector or unfairly promote its own services, undermining competitiveness and free enterprise”, as highlighted in the newspaper Estadão. Meanwhile, US companies such as AT & T Inc, Comcast Corp. and Verizon Communications Inc. oppose the rules in effect by claiming that the consumers should have the decision-making power over the content they want to access and the values they are willing to pay.
As can be seen throughout this text, the repercussions of abdication on net neutrality by the United States tend to be much more negative than any advantage alleged by proponents of such measures. Add to that the fact that decisions taken in the United States influence decision-making in various countries around the world – after all, the extreme relevance of the US economy and policy to the international market in the present is undeniable.
Thus, measures such as these, intended by the Trump government, may be precedent for the adoption and dissemination of similar measures in other countries, which certainly represents a serious risk to the integrity of the Internet in the way it has been idealized since its inception and remains until nowadays.