While some of President Trump's more controversial policies have gained the national spotlight since he took office in January, his administration has quietly been working to repeal key Obama-era policies that protect net neutrality and ensure equal and fair access to online services. Many people may not quite know what net neutrality is, but understanding these decisions is key because they would severely limit the government's ability to regulate online industries. This could potentially allow companies to take advantage of consumers by charging higher rates for optimized service — and it could affect every aspect of your day-to-day media consumption.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should provide equal access to all content, without allowing content providers to pay more money to stream to consumers more quickly.
This principle was cemented into U.S. policy in 2015, when the Federal Communications Commission — the agency that is responsible for regulating television, radio, and phone companies — ruled that the internet should be classified as a "utility" rather than a luxury. This means that the internet is legally considered just as essential as water and gas, and therefore, it is subject to government regulation.
Proponents of net neutrality, like John Oliver, say that net neutrality is essential for protecting consumers from the greed of corporations.
They argue that allowing multi-million dollar companies to pay for faster streaming would make it impossible for small start-ups to compete. In turn, this would create a monopoly that would drive up costs for something that is now legally considered a necessity.
Opponents, like Trump's new pick to lead the FCC, Ajit Pai, say that the government should let ISPs do their thing, and that a free and open market encourages competition and can drive down prices.
Pai has been an outspoken critic of net neutrality for years, and on Thursday he revealed his plan to reverse the classification of the internet as a utility — and quickly. According to Reuters, Pai hopes to have FCC commissioners vote on this change by as early as May, a decision that could make it more difficult for the government to regulate the industry.
Consumers have responded to the announcement with #HandsOffOurNet, urging lawmakers to protect open internet access.
The Trump Administration already sparked controversy in March by repealing regulations that prohibited ISPs from selling consumer data without their permission, a move that many saw as a major blow to consumer internet privacy. Given Pai's statements over the past week, you can expect to see an attempt to repeal many more net neutrality regulations throughout the rest of Trump's term.