In recent months, millions of people have protested the FCC’s plan to repeal U.S. net neutrality rules, which were put in place by the Obama administration.
Today the FCC voted to repeal the old rules, effectively ending net neutrality.
Under the net neutrality rules that have been in effect during recent years, ISPs were specifically prohibited from blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization of “lawful” traffic. In addition, Internet providers could be regulated as carriers under Title II.
Now that these rules have been repealed, Internet providers will have more freedom to experiment with paid prioritization. Under the new guidelines, they can charge customers extra for access to some online services, or throttle certain types of traffic.
Most critics of the repeal fear that, now that the old net neutrality rules are in the trash, ‘fast lanes’ for some services, and throttling for others, will become commonplace in the U.S.
This could also mean that BitTorrent traffic becomes a target once again. After all, it was Comcast’s ‘secretive’ BitTorrent throttling that started the broader net neutrality debate, now ten years ago.
Comcast’s throttling history is a sensitive issue, also for the company itself.
Before the Obama-era net neutrality rules, the ISP vowed that it would no longer discriminate against specific traffic classes. Ahead of the FCC vote yesterday, it doubled down on this promise.
“Despite repeated distortions and biased information, as well as misguided, inaccurate attacks from detractors, our Internet service is not going to change,” writes David Cohen, Comcast’s Chief Diversity Officer.
“We have repeatedly stated, and reiterate today, that we do not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content.”
It’s worth highlighting the term “lawful” in the last sentence. It is by no means a promise that pirate sites won’t be blocked.
As we’ve highlighted in the past, blocking pirate sites was already an option under the now-repealed rules. The massive copyright loophole made sure of that. Targeting all torrent traffic is even an option, in theory.
That said, today’s FCC vote certainly makes it easier for ISPs to block or throttle BitTorrent traffic across the entire network. For the time being, however, there are no signs that any ISPs plan to do so.
If they do, we will know soon enough. The FCC requires all ISPs to be transparent under the new plan. They have to disclose network management practices, blocking efforts, commercial prioritization, and the like. And with the current focus on net neutrality, ISPs are likely to tread carefully, or else they might just face an exodus of customers.
Finally, it’s worth highlighting that today’s vote is not the end of the road yet.
Net neutrality supporters are planning to convince Congress to overturn the repeal. In addition, there are is also talk of taking the matter to court, with Attorney Generals planning a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the repeal.