FCC regulators have voted 3-2 to repeal so-called "net-neutrality" regulations. Following the repeal, Internet Service Providers need only disclose how they direct Internet traffic but are not required to refrain from privileging the exchange of certain types of data while throttling the exchange of other types. Deregulation has been an important part of the Republican platform under Donald Trump, and supporters of the decision view it as nothing more than a return to the status quo before Obama-era regulations came into effect. Under those regulations, which were ushered in in 2015 by a vote with the same margins, Internet service providers were prohibited from favoring or throttling traffic under Title 2 of the Federal Telecommunications Law.

Ajit Pai against 'Net Neutrality'

Ajit Pai, the current, Trump-appointed chairman of the FCC, has long been an opponent of the 2015 regulations. Pai has a vision of the Internet as an extension of other forms of American capitalism and believes that a deregulated Internet will foster the development of broadband technology among other innovations. He has pointed to health services and self-driving vehicles as upcoming industries that would benefit from having devoted and stable channels of communication. Pai also claims that regulation discourages service providers from investing in better networks. Under the regulations, providers were barred from selling faster data to certain companies, and so, the reasoning goes, would have little incentive to develop the capability to do so.

In support of this argument, he pointed to studies purporting to show that investment in new technology among the top 12 Internet providers is down in the two years since the regulations have come into effect. Other supporters of deregulation have compared such premium Internet services to the existence of special highway toll-lanes or the sale of first-class seats on airlines: once raised, the money obtained by offering these services can then be re-invested to improve the overall user experience.

(Whether first-class airline seats have improved the overall flying experience, I leave to the judgment of my readers.)

Rescinding 'Net Neutrality' may harm consumers, small-businesses

Opponents of the new regime point out that while increasing speed is one way for Internet providers to offer such services, another and in their view far more likely approach would be to artificially throttle the speed of other services.

The cost of such practices would be not only generally slower service for everyday users but steeper competition for small businesses that cannot afford to pay for faster delivery. As an example, if Netflix secures high-speed streaming and is thereby able to deliver a superior user experience, smaller streaming services that cannot afford the speed premium would be unable to compete. Opponents of deregulation also have studies of their own purporting to show that so far from decreasing in the past two years, investment in broadband technology increased proportionally. (This outright contradiction is, at first glance, something of a mystery -- it would be worth considering whether the opposing studies differ because one is considering only the top providers, whereas the other is considering providers more generally -- where smaller providers have increased spending to catch up with larger providers.)

Whichever side has the superior argument, deregulation has proven exceedingly controversial, as Net Neutrality is now a cause celebre for the Obama administration.

Since announcing its vote, the FCC has received around 500,000 comments both for and against deregulation, and as we have seen in other national controversies, at least some of these comments have been found to originate from Russian hackers eager to fan the flames of public opinion. Protests were held outside the FCC as the decision was being announced, and Pai's announcement itself had to be interrupted to clear the meeting room when security received word of a bomb threat.