Net neutrality was on the chopping block as soon as Trump took office, and this week will mark another milestone on the Obama-era regulation’s likely route to extinction.
Wednesday is the last day for the public to file comments with the Federal Communications Commission on the fate of net neutrality, which President Trump’s chairman, Ajit Pai, wants to completely undo. Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should treat all traffic that travels over their networks equally—an idea that attracted more than 4 million comments when the agency passed the regulations in 2015.
Pai, a Republican who also served on the FCC under President Obama and took over the agency in January, introduced a new proposal that would rescind the net neutrality rules, which the Republican-led FCC could vote on by the end of the year. After the comment window closes on Wednesday, the FCC is supposed to come back with a response for how it plans to move forward.
If the net neutrality rules are repealed, internet service providers stand to make major profits: They’ll be able to charge both customers for internet access and websites for so-called fast lane access. And when websites load slowly, people navigate away, so the companies that can afford to be in the fast lane will have a huge advantage over startups or smaller competitors.
Pai has been pushing hard to repeal the current regulations. In the FCC’s May proposal, he argued that net neutrality has dissuaded internet providers from investing in building out and upgrading their networks. Last month the chairman testified to Congress that he could be persuaded to stop trying to roll back net neutrality if he heard a convincing argument that investment in internet infrastructure was actually on the rise. But clearly Pai isn’t paying close attention to what internet providers are reporting on their investment calls: AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon all said they’ve been spending big to expand and improve their networks’ infrastructure since the network neutrality rules passed.
The public has been speaking up this time around—the current docket has more than 21 million comments. But even with the fate of the open internet at stake, Pai’s proposal might sail through without a huge public fight. Net neutrality could very well become another casualty of Trump’s reign.
Future Tense is a partnership of Slate, New America, and Arizona State University.