Some of the most significant tech-friendly policy changes of the past decade will be in the crosshairs come January 20, 2017.
Experts, newspapers, and telecom analysts are highlighting the issue this week. And no one is being subtle about the rallying cry: "Net neutrality has a big target on its back," Robert Kaminski, a telecom analyst at Capital Alpha Partners, told The Washington Post.
Net neutrality is a blanket term for rules requiring broadband-access companies to treat all content equally--meaning, they can't charge unequally for access to their "utility" or block certain sites or services from users. It was adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in early 2015, and was considered a victory for Silicon Valley companies. Broadband providers, such as Comcast and AT&T, fought the rules, arguing instead for a less-intrusive approach.
To be fair, Trump has not specifically stated what he intends to do about net neutrality, which was upheld by a federal appeals court earlier this year. While he's tweeted a few times on the subject and has mentioned it as a "top-down power grab," eliminating net neutrality is not included in his First 100 Days agenda. However, he makes perfectly clear at every turn that he wants to eliminate "intrusive" regulations. This fact is mentioned many times in his policy proposal.
Obama's attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.-- Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) November 12, 2014
The likely path to the gallows for net neutrality is through the FCC. That's because after he takes office, Trump will appoint a Republican FCC Chair. Even if it doesn't happen immediately, current FCC chair Tom Wheeler is expected to step down immediately, leaving the chairman role open for a current GOP FCC member to fill temporarily.
A more conservative FCC likely would be open to new rule-making to reverse the 2015 net neutrality decision. And that reversal could undermine additional privacy rules the FCC has since put into place (they mostly require Internet providers to ask subscribers before using their data to sell advertising, but could have broader implications).
Congressional Republicans are no fans of net neutrality, either. Should Trump or the FCC bring the issue to the forefront of policy debate, it and other Internet-company-friendly policies could topple.
Either way, it would be a big blow to Silicon Valley. Many of the largest Internet companies, including Google and Reddit, have been lobbying and waging a public battle for what have been dubbed "Internet freedoms" since legislation known as SOPA and PIPA drew attention in 2012. The two pieces of proposed legislation dealt with copyright issues, but were widely criticized for potentially hampering free speech online--and the ability for some web-based companies to operate easily. And in July of this past year, 150 technology executives signed onto a letter stating "Trump would be a disaster for innovation."
Perhaps Washington should pay heed before opening up this can of worms. Remember January 18, 2012? More than 115,000 websites participated in a protest--some going dark, some directing individuals to contact Congress. More than 14 million people did, to protest the SOPA and PIPA bills, which promptly failed. It was a remarkable demonstration of the tech industry's weight--and ability to make a mark on Washington.
It's easy to imagine a repeat--if they even have the opportunity this time around.