Why the fight over net neutrality is far from over

The fight over net neutrality is far from over, analysts say, despite all the funereal headlines.

The FCC voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal net neutrality rules Thursday in an expected move that spurred some dramatic headlines. Tech Radar cited VPN providers who claimed the agency “broke the internet as we know it,” for instance, and Mashable proclaimed net neutrality “is officially dead.”

But some industry insiders warned against performing any autopsies on neutrality prematurely.

“There wasn’t much suspense in today’s FCC vote on neutrality. Each of the commissioners had made clear where they stood. In that sense, (the) vote was little more than a formality,” MoffettNathanson wrote in a research note. “But in many ways, today’s vote is just the beginning of the journey. Well, OK, not really the beginning—this tortured saga dates back to the late 1990s with the merger of AOL and Time Warner—but at least not the end. What matters is what happens next.”

Wireless carriers were quick to cheer the vote, of course, which will help them compete more effectively with companies such as Facebook and Google in the ever-growing market of digital advertising.

But the FCC must still finalize the wording of the order to repeal net neutrality rules, MoffettNathanson noted, then must garner approval from both the Office of Management and Budget and Government Accountability Office. And the order won’t legally take effect for 60 days after all of that, so it won’t likely be applicable until sometime in the second quarter of 2018.

Meanwhile, efforts are mounting at both the state and local levels to fight the order to roll back net neutrality rules. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said he would lead a multistate lawsuit against the agency to preserve the rules—18 state attorneys general had previously lobbied the FCC to delay its vote, as Ars Technica reported—and an increasing number of Republicans in Congress are calling for legislation to protect net neutrality.

“There will be plenty of lawsuits attempting to put the protections back in place, so this is not over,” said Michael Fauscette, a former IDC analyst and chief research officer at the software review website G2 Crowd, in a statement emailed to FierceWireless. “There also is a call for Congress to step in and pass legislation to put the regulations back in place, but with a Republican-controlled House and Senate, it’s not likely to pass anytime soon.”

Even so, wireless carriers and other ISPs aren’t likely to egregiously abuse any newfound freedoms given other FCC rules, MoffettNathanson wrote. And net neutrality rules could easily be reestablished if and when a new administration takes control of the White House.

“If, as we suspect, there will be no action from Congress, well, then we are merely an election away from reclassification again. That means three more years of uncertainty… or perhaps longer. And if we then get a Supreme Court ruling—which could likely mean another two or three years of uncertainty while we awaited the case’s arrival and ruling—we would then be faced with… more uncertainty,” the firm noted.