Remember net neutrality?
Back in 2014, you couldn’t miss it, nor the videos that people created to explain it. Like the one I made.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast (CMCSA) and AT&T (T) should not be able to charge more to pass along some kinds of data than others. It’s an issue now that these companies own more than the “pipes”—they also own the companies that send video through them. For example, Comcast owns NBC, and AT&T owns DirecTV. Should Comcast be allowed to charge Netflix (NFLX) more because it’s a rival?
2014 was the year of net-neutrality debate. The whole country was up in arms. Every consumer-advocacy group took to the streets. In the end, net neutrality was preserved; the internet continued as it always has.
But now there’s a new FCC chairman, handpicked by Donald Trump: former Verizon (VZ) lawyer Ajit Pai. He wasted no time—without any announcement or discussion—in tearing down the FCC’s consumer-protection laws. He took about a dozen actions, including these:
- “Net neutrality’s days are numbered,” he announced. He’ll face a battle to dismantle it completely, but that’s his goal.
- He has defunded nine smaller ISPs that participate in the Lifeline program, created by Republican presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush to bring service to lower-income Americans.
- He has killed the FCC’s effort to eliminate the cable-box rental industry, which costs you more than $230 a year, per box. The previous FCC felt that its circuitry could easily be built into our TVs or gadgets like the Roku or Apple (AAPL) TV.
- He has halted the FCC’s efforts to end price-gouging monopolies on phone calls from jails and prisons, which cost as much as $17 per 15-minute call before the regulator acted to rein in prices.
Pai’s goal, like Trump’s, is to eliminate as many regulations as possible—regulations that cost money to large corporations like Verizon (2015 profits: $42 billion), AT&T ($13 billion), and Comcast ($3.5 billion).
Alas, the loser in these transactions is you, the consumer. Once net neutrality is dead, you’ll pay more for Netflix and other services that aren’t owned by the ISPs.
Of course, not everyone will be unhappy with the new, anti-consumer FCC spirit. Shareholders will love it.
Disclosure: Verizon has made an offer to buy Yahoo Finance’s parent company, Yahoo.
David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.