Remember net neutrality, a.k.a. the Open Internet Rule of 2015, which gave the Federal Communications Commission authority to enact rules that would help keep the internet a free and open entity? That prevented internet service providers from playing favorites? Kept the cost down for streaming music and video? Treated the Amazons and joescornerstore.coms as equals?
In a few months, net neutrality will likely suffer the same fate as the Affordable Care Act, as a longtime opponent of the measure, Commissioner Ajit Pai, seizes the reins as the newly appointed chairman of the FCC, and majority voting in the commission will shift from Democrats to Republicans.
“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” Pai said in a recent speech. On Monday, President Trump anointed him with the power.
Removing net neutrality rules will likely encourage more “synergistic” consolidation of service and content partners, like the recent merger of AT&T and DirecTV. In November, AT&T announced a sweetheart deal to its mobile subscribers who were also DirecTV customers.
The mobile customers could now stream the new DirecTV Now service without having the sessions count against their monthly data cap. That practice, known as zero rating, sparked the FCC to warn AT&T it might be violating net neutrality rules. After all, rival services viewed on the phones – like Netflix and HBO Go/HBO Now – don’t enjoy the same breaks.
But the lame duck FCC didn’t get around to challenging the rule. Nor has it gone after another recent sweetheart, zero rating deal — Verizon’s with Go90 — or T-Mobile’s longtime and somewhat less controversial (as it embraces many services) free streaming of multiple music and video partners.
Trump has been against the Open Internet Rule since 2014, when he tweeted that “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab” and argued that net neutrality would “target conservative media.”
Republicans legislators like Ted Cruz have echoed the sentiments, declaring the policy “Obamacare for the internet” that would stifle investment from private industry. And Politico suggested the writing’s been on the wall since Jeffrey Eisenach — a longtime critic of FCC regulation, conservative think tank scholar, and paid consultant to Verizon — was tapped for the Trump transition team.