Despite a torrent of protest from tech industry leaders and ordinary citizens, in a 3-2 party line vote the FCC ruled to scrap net neutrality rules yesterday, opening the door to internet service providers blocking or charging more for certain kinds of content.
And that, you might think, is that (at least until Congress or the White House changes hands). But if you think changing the rules is as simple as, well, changing the rules, you're badly mistaken. According to a host of experts, the administration's decision has just opened the floodgates for lawsuits challenging the rule change.
States are gearing up for a fight.
In fact, you don't even have to believe the lawyers who outline several possible legal challenges to the FCC's decision (here's a TechCrunch deep dive into the possibilities if you'd like to get into the weeds) that such suits are likely. Attorneys General in several Democratic states have already announced their intentions to take the FCC to court. New York's Eric Schneiderman is leading the charge. He commented:
The FCC's vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers and to everyone who cares about a free and open Internet. The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving Internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers. Today's rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That's a threat to the free exchange of ideas that's made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.
At least Washington Oregon, Illinois, Iowa, and Massachusetts will join the effort, and California is reportedly going to come on board too. Here's a good Ars Technica article with lots more details on which states are participating, as well as further explanation of the probable grounds for these suits.
Not much will change immediately.
While all this (as well as the long shot chance the current Congress could write itself the authority to overrule the FCC on the issue) is going on, ISPs are likely to hold off on making major changes.
"ISPs are under extreme scrutiny right now, both from regulators like the FTC (which will be put back in charge of them) to grassroots activists watching for any unseemly network practices. For them to immediately change their practices right after the regulations change would be hypocritical in the context of their repeated arguments that they already respect the no blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization rules," notes TechCrunch, adding:
"Not that major companies generally shy away from a little hypocrisy now and then, but in this case it would be risky; anything they do could and would be used against them in a court of law."
Still, the article advises consumers to be on the lookout for any changes to their service. That's two things to watch then: the courts and your internet bill.