Imagine that you were walking from your car to a store. There’s an event in the neighborhood, so parking was difficult and you have a couple blocks to walk. Along the way, this nice-looking guy comes up to you, all smiles. He’s wearing a pink t-shirt with a lemniscate on it and he offers you that for the low, low price of $99 a year, he’ll let you delete files from your computer. You give him a quizzical look, and try to explain that you’re already able to delete files from your computer. However, he expertly avoids that issue and steers the conversation to fancy words like “cloud,” “backup,” and “encryption.” Suitably impressed, you let him swipe your credit card. Right?
By now, the FCC’s net neutrality vote is old news. That was, at the time of this writing, almost a month and a half ago! However, I don’t think anyone understands it now any better than they did then. Net neutrality is far more complex than most people give it credit for. Whether they’ll admit it or not, to most people, it’s just another political gimmick. Something else to get “excited” about when you’re really, really, bored. Or something like that.
What was I talking about again? Oh yes. Something about the FCC? The Federal Communications Commission is a U.S. government agency whose purpose is to regulate interstate and international communications for U.S. states and territories. That means that anything classified as a “communication” which travels either from one state to another or from the U.S. to another country is subject to FCC regulation. Without getting into the gory details, it suffices to say that there are five commissioner positions with varying responsibilities in the FCC, and that the president of the United States is responsible for their appointment. In addition, he selects one of these commissioners to chair. Generally, the senate must confirm these presidential nominees. However, President Trump was able to give Ajit Pai, a Barack Obama nominee, the chairman position without the senate’s explicit approval because they had already approved his nomination as a commissioner during President Obama’s tenure (Byers). This is why news outlets like the Washington Post and The Verge are able to refer to Ajit Pai as “President Trump’s new FCC chairman.” While technically accurate, the political nature of that choice of lingo is decidedly obvious, especially in context.
In any case, the facts remain facts. On the 18th of May, 2017, the FCC voted to reassess net neutrality regulations, with the goal of “restoring internet freedom” by reducing regulations. Practically, this means that there is a 90 day comment period during which the public is encouraged to comment directly to the FCC with arguments for or against net neutrality. We’re about halfway through that at the time of this writing. When the period ends, the FCC will draft a new set of rules and vote to incorporate the new rules into law. The FCC isn’t a lawmaking body, but they’ll vote to incorporate a bunch of new rules into something that a law already allows them to do. Or something like that.