The FCC’s net neutrality rules took effect last Friday, and TechCrunch is content to report that the broader technology landscape did not melt down.
A court denied a requested stay of the rules last week, setting the order live as expected. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a statement, called the new regulations “a huge victory for Internet consumers and innovators.” Pre-echoing that point, Wheeler said earlier this year — during an interview with TechCrunch — that the new “Open Internet protections” are the “strongest” that “anyone has ever imagined.”
Shares of Verizon — the future home of this publication — a company viscerally opposed to net neutrality, are down a fraction in a down market. Investors, it seems, aren’t pricing much downside into net neutrality in the immediate aftermath of its enaction.
There is a certain irony to the Verizon point. Verizon brought the last suit against net neutrality that led to the new rules. Title II is in no small way due to the actions of that ISP.
Legal challenges to net neutrality are on a fast track and should be wrapped up, perhaps, by the end of 2015. The key aspect to an accelerated court schedule is that the market needs certainty on the matter. If the FCC’s rules are overturned, things change. If the agency succeeds in court, things don’t change.
Following the FCC’s victory to put down a stay of its rules, Wheeler said that the decision “give[s] broadband providers the certainty and economic incentive to build fast and competitive broadband networks.” ISPs would rather have it another way.
Aside from legal threats, another potentiality looms for net neutrality: A new administration’s FCC changing the rules. That fact adds another wrinkle to the current presidential election cycle — who wins will be able to either maintain, or shape, net neutrality policy in a different direction.
Congressional action, of course, remains a possibility.
Mike Montgomery of CALinnovates, a technology interest group, told TechCrunch that if the party in the White House changes, things could rapidly shift:
A Republican President will surely make the appointment of a new FCC Chairman a priority, and that new Chairman would likely take a sledgehammer to the Open Internet Order as her or his first order of business. […] The new President’s appointment of a new FCC Chairman will shift the balance of power at the Commission, turning a 3-2 Democratic majority into a Democratic minority, thus providing the votes to either completely overturn the imposition of Title II or drastic forbearance, leading to a theoretical ‘wild west’ that would lack any clear rules of the road, which would create a nightmare scenario for consumers, startups and the greater business community, and investors.
Montgomery said that if the net neutrality rules lose in court, it could lead to “a situation where fast lanes, blocking, and throttling will be squarely back on the table.”
In short, here we are, as expected. Welcome back to net neutrality.