After the Federal Communications Commission's vote on Thursday, many were left wondering when net neutrality will be gone. The commission voted along party lines to repeal broadband's Title II classification, but that decision was just the first step. Here's what's next.
The change will need to be added to the federal register, which TechCrunch reports could take up to a few months. The register is the official newspaper of the federal government and contains new and proposed rules, as well as public notices. The repeal will officially have taken effect once it appears there.
But net neutrality itself isn't a law; it's a concept. If, as consumer advocates fear, internet service providers do take advantage of the deregulation by exploiting customers, that will not happen all at once. The changes from the loss of open internet protections will probably be subtle and occur slowly. It's hard to know exactly what providers will do, but they could block certain websites or force them to load more slowly than others. If they have a commercial interest in a site, they could make it load more quickly to encourage customers to prioritize it.
Luckily, the fight for net neutrality doesn't end here. First off, there will be lawsuits challenging the repeal: Washington state's attorney general, Bob Ferguson, has already stated that he intends to sue.
"Today, I am announcing my intention to file a legal challenge to the FCC’s decision to roll back net neutrality, along with attorneys general across the country," he said on Thursday. "We are 5-0 against the Trump Administration because they often fail to follow the law when taking executive action. There is a strong legal argument that with this action, the federal government violated the Administrative Procedure Act — again. We will be filing a petition for review in the coming days."
The Administrative Procedure Act establishes standards for the ways that federal administrative agencies can make rules. In part, it obligates transparency and judicial oversight over agency decisions. New York's attorney general has also announced that he will sue over the FCC's decision.
Congress can also take action to fight the repeal. Per the Congressional Review Act — which was used against some Obama-era rules earlier this year — the chambers can get rid of regulations that agencies have recently imposed. Congress can also amend the 1996 Telecommunications Act so that broadband internet is classified under Title II, which is what the FCC ruled in 2015 and just repealed. Net neutrality would be much less vulnerable if it became an official part of that act.
"The internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We weren’t living in a digital dystopia," FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement on Thursday before voting to repeal that Title II classification. "So what is the FCC doing today? Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the Internet for most of its existence."
The two Democratic members of the commission voted against the repeal.
"I dissent, because I am among the millions who is outraged," said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel in her own statement. "Outraged, because the FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers. ... When the current protections are abandoned, and the rules that have been officially in place since 2015 are repealed, we will have a Cheshire cat version of net neutrality. We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all that is left is a broadband provider’s toothy grin and those oh-so-comforting words: we have every incentive to do the right thing."
To fight against the FCC's decision, call your congressional representatives and demand that they repeal it with the Congressional Review Act or classify broadband under Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act.