Net neutrality rules were approved by the US Federal Communications Commission in 2015 to prevent internet service providers from stopping or slowing down some websites and data in favour of others.
Under the FCC regulations, broadband was reclassified as a utility and providers are now required to allow lawful internet traffic to flow without making any decisions about which data would get faster or better access.
However, the FCC provisions have been criticised by the Republican Party as being a sign of “big government” interfering with the free markets.
Democrats argued, however, that the government’s job is to regulate the markets to ensure free access for everyone, and not allow a small number of companies to form an oligarchy of sorts.
President Barack Obama was one of the supporters of net neutrality, and in a letter dated February 26, 2015, he said: “More than 4 million people wrote in to the FCC, overwhelmingly in support of a free and fair internet.”
On a specially-created page on the White House website, the outgoing administration adds that the principle of net neutrality “says that an entrepreneur’s fledgling company should have the same chance to succeed as established corporations, and that access to a high school student’s blog shouldn’t be unfairly slowed down to make way for advertisers with more money”.
Moreover, as quoted in the LA Times, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said: “I think it’s an important thing to remember that taking a fast, fair and open Internet away from the public and away from those who use it to offer innovative new services to the public would be a real mistake.”
However, now that Donald Trump has won the presidency for the Republicans, tech experts are saying that net neutrality is under threat.
The Republicans “have been very much opposed to net neutrality”, says John Bergmayer, senior counsel at digital rights group Public Knowledge.
Trump has previously suggested that the FCC exceeded its authority in approving the net neutrality guidelines, and tweeted: “Obama’s attack on the Internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.”
The Fairness Doctrine was US policy until 1987. It required holders of broadcast licences to present controversial issues in an honest, equitable and balanced way.
Although president-elect Trump has not made any public statements about net neutrality since winning the election, tech industry observers have voiced their concerns.
“What the big cable and phone companies want Trump to do is to turn the Internet over to them to run as a private fiefdom.”