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The Trump administration could potentially change how consumers access video, music, web stories and other online content by rolling back many of the net neutrality rules passed by the Obama administration. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the government should stop "micromanaging" the web. What does that mean for consumers? Jeffrey Brown takes a closer look with Kim Hart of Axios.
The Trump administration appears poised to pass a new set of rules that could change the landscape of the Internet, and it could do that by potentially changing how consumers access the video, music, stories and other content that they see online.
Jeffrey Brown has the story.
We're talking about rules aimed at protecting what's called net neutrality, passed during the Obama administration.
The idea was to ensure that Internet providers, including big companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, treat all content on the Web equally, they provide a kind of highway, and are not allowed to charge more or even block your ability to see content from other companies, like Netflix, Facebook and Google.
Today, FCC chairman Ajit Pai proposed rolling back many of those rules. He says the digital landscape has changed, and government should stop — quote — "micromanaging the Web." Instead, he says companies should be transparent about their policies.
For a closer look, we're joined by Kim Hart, technology editor of the news Web site Axios.
For the record, she worked in the FCC during the prior administration, but she has returned to her reporting roots.
And welcome to you.
Thanks for having me.
So, the first thing we need to do is remind people a little bit more about what net neutrality is, what the current rules do.
So, two years ago, under the Obama administration, Chairman Tom Wheeler put in place some pretty strong rules that would prevent Internet service providers like AT&T and Comcast and Verizon from blocking, slowing down, or allowing fast lanes on the Internet.
That basically allows you, as a consumer, to reach any kind of content from any company or service provider on the Web.
So, the FCC chairman, Mr. Pai, is appointed by President Trump. Not a surprise. He came in to this talking about how we should deregulate more of the — more of Internet and this whole world, right?
From the beginning, even before the 2015 net neutrality rules were passed, he was very clear that he didn't think it was appropriate to add that kind of regulation onto the Internet. He was very clear that he thought that adding burdensome — what he called burdensome regulations on to these ISPs would actually discourage them from investing in their networks and making sure that more and more people got online in hard-to-reach areas.
Now we have been covering this for years, as long as it's been around. It's always been seen as — it's always been seen as one set of really big companies, telecom companies, against another set of really big companies…
… right, like the Googles of the world, the content makers.
And, actually, that dynamic has been shifting a little bit, too. You know, 10 years ago, when this debate really started to heat up, companies like Google and Facebook and Netflix were little guys. They were really small compared to the big Internet service providers.
So, they really felt strongly that they needed protections like net neutrality to make sure that they could get their services and the content that they were producing or hosting in front of consumers without being slowed down by the big guys, who could pay more money to Comcast or AT&T to speed their content up to consumers.
So, they were really active in this fight. But, over the years, as we all know, Google and Facebook and Netflix have become pretty large players themselves.
Yes, pretty big, right.
And they're media companies in their own right in many ways. They host a lot of content. They are even producing their own original content now.
And so they have a lot more market leverage than they did even a few years ago, when this debate happened. So while they all say that they support open Internet and the net neutrality principles, it's not as big of a threat to their bottom line as it was just a few years ago.
So, if this is rolled back, then what about consumers? Consumer groups were opposed to ending net neutrality?
And consumers have been commenting on this issue in droves at the FCC. There were millions of comments filed at the FCC on this issue, so consumers are really engaged.
I think what this — what today's announcement means for consumers is that they will have to read the fine print more on their plans. Basically, without having these blanket bans on throttling and slowing down and outright blocking and gatekeeping kind of conduct on the Internet, ISPs will have to disclose what their new plans are going to do.
So they will have to let consumers know up front if they will be subject to data caps or if content from one particular content provider will be sped up over others.
That's the transparency part, but it's on consumers to make sure of that, right?
Right. It shifts the burdens onto consumers to make sure that they're aware of what the provisions in their particular plan, and so that they're not hit with a bigger bill than they were expecting.
All right, just briefly, the full commission votes on this in December. Pretty clear that it will pass, I think, right?
There will be legal challenges to come?
Every time the FCC has taken action on this issue, it's almost immediately challenged by the parties on the opposing side. We can expect those on the tech industry side to be very vocal about how this is going to fundamentally change the way that consumers travel around the Web.
All right, so the fight continues.
The fight continues.
Kim Hart of Axios, thank you very much.
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