On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission will vote on whether or not to roll back Obama-era regulations in favor of net neutrality. The commission is expected to vote to repeal internet service providers' Title II classification, which is a regulation that has been used to prevent them from creating fast lanes and other circumstances that inhibit an "open internet." If you use the internet in any capacity, you're probably wondering what time the net neutrality vote is.
The vote will take place during the FCC's monthly meeting, which begins at 10:30 a.m. ET and will probably run for around two hours. Per The Verge, it is the commission's fourth agenda item and will likely take place at 11:00 a.m. ET at the earliest.
The FCC voted to give internet service providers a Title II classification in 2015, which categorized broadband as a telecommunications service, effectually meaning that it needs to be treated like a public utility. The label is intended to prevent providers from changing their service in ways that benefit them commercially but hurt consumers. More specifically, it prohibits providers from blocking certain websites or allowing them to load faster than others. If providers are able to make those sorts of decisions, the fear is that they will force sites to pay more to be "prioritized." They could create "fast lanes" for websites with which they have a commercial relationship; for example, if Comcast owned Netflix, it could slow down the loading time for Hulu videos. Comcast customers might then choose Netflix as their preferred streaming service.
There's good reason to believe that this worry is not unfounded. As Alina Selyukh told NPR earlier this year, the regulations were inspired by the fact that providers were, in fact, taking advantage of consumers.
"This did come at a time when there were some incidents and accusations of Internet service providers actually meddling with access and speeds of some traffic in some instances," she said. "They were blocking access to some services."
Section 201 of Title II obligates that "all charges, practices, classifications, and regulations for and in connection with such communication service, shall be just and reasonable." Broad requirements like this theoretically protect consumers from internet service provider extortion that isn't specifically covered by the law.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai argues that the regulations are unnecessary. According to him, the oversight inhibits corporate growth.
"President Clinton got it right in 1996 when he established a free market-based approach to this new thing called the Internet, and the Internet economy we have is a result of his light-touch regulatory vision," Pai said on NPR earlier this month. "We saw companies like Facebook and Amazon and Google become global powerhouses precisely because we had light-touch rules that apply to this Internet. And the Internet wasn't broken in 2015 when these heavy-handed regulations were adopted."
Others on the commission disagree. "Our internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all," said member Jessica Rosenworcel on Nov. 21. "This proposal tears at the foundation of that openness." She has also said that deregulating internet service providers is "ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the internet every day."
The regulation affects not only consumers but also those who run websites. If providers are allowed to prioritize some sites over others, smaller sites could find it more difficult to compete online. That could negatively impact small businesses, including those that aren't based online but advertise their services there.
The FCC, which has a 3-2 Republican majority, is expected to vote in favor of getting rid of the Title II classification. To watch the meeting, check out the live-stream on the FCC's website.