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So Long to Net Neutrality, Hello to Bigger Telecoms?

Today marks the official end of the government’s net neutrality rules, a change that comes as a judge is expected to rule Tuesday on whether AT&T can buy Time Warner. The two developments could lead to further consolidation of wireless, cable and content giants, public interest advocates say.

Two pivotal developments this week could dramatically expand the power and footprint of major telecom companies, altering how Americans access everything from political news to “Game of Thrones” on the Internet.

Monday marks the official end of the U.S. government’s net neutrality rules, which had required broadband providers such as AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon to treat all Web traffic equally. The repeal is part of a campaign by Ajit Pai, the Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, to deregulate the telecom industry in a bid to boost its investments — particularly in rural areas.

“I think ultimately it’s going to mean better, faster, cheaper Internet access and more competition,” Pai said in an interview. Others disagree and will challenge Pai in court, while many states are fighting back with their own laws, further muddling the situation.

One day after the net neutrality changes, a federal judge is set to rule on Tuesday on whether AT&T can buy Time Warner. AT&T, already the country’s second-largest wireless network, stands to gain a content trove from Time Warner that includes HBO and CNN — leading the Justice Department, which filed the lawsuit, to argue that the company could harm its rivals.

Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.
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