What the FCC's net neutrality decision means for you

Dec 15, 2017

The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to end rules making the internet open to all - what is called net neutrality - and by the end of the day, New York State Attorney General Erie Schneiderman said, "See you in court."

With Republicans in the majority, the commission voted to end Obama-era rules to keep the web open to all. Those rules barred broadband companies from blocking websites, charging for higher-quality service or some content. Basically, the rules meant the FCC treated the web as if it were a utility like your telephone.

The decision ending those controls also brought lawsuits, including one from New York State.

“The FCC’s vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet," said Schneiderman. "The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers. Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process."

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announces he will sue over the FCC's net neutrality decision.
Credit New York State Attorney General's Office

Schneiderman also has been investigating the flood of fake comments submitted during the net neutrality comment process, estimated at 2 million.

"The only thing that I know, this is definitely good for are telecommunications lawyers because they have lots of different lawsuits they are going to participate in now," said University at Buffalo Law Professor Mark Bartholomew. "They're going to challenge the notes and comments, all these sort of fake Twitter bots that are voting on this proposal. They're going to challenge the FCC's decision itself, saying it's arbitrary and capricious. And so we will see this tied up in court."

Bartholomew says the decision is a long-term problem for new companies.

"Netflix and Facebook, the sites we go to, they are so popular that it would be a suicide move for an ISP to somehow make you pay more or slow the traffic at those sites down," Bartholomew said. "Where I think this really comes into play is the next Netflix, the next killer app that someone wants to go to and they're told, 'Well, you're going to have to pay a premium to get to that app.' That's when it might affect the consumer."

Erie County Legislator Patrick Burke said this is another reason for the proposed Erie County Broadband Network, which would serve everyone in the county, with current web providers having to agree to some form of net neutrality to use the proposed system.

"We've released a white paper and done our feasibility study," Burke said. "So, yeah, we can do something about it. We can set up a county network where, then, internet providers sign on to our high-speed network and that gives us a certain level of control."