Net neutrality could restrict customer choice, FCC commissioner warns

Net Neutrality: If You Like Your Wireless Plan, You Can Keep Your Wireless Plan?

Net neutrality means the opposite of a free and open internet and could restrict consumer options, according to a dissenting government official.

The Democrat majority on the Federal Communications Commission is scheduled to vote in favor of net neutrality regulations on Thursday, February 26. The details contained in the 322-page plan are being kept under wraps and will not be released to the public before the vote, however.

Bootstrapping from an 80-year-old law, the Communications Act of 1934, the FCC plans to reclassify internet service providers as so-called common carriers or public utilities like the phone companies, thereby making them subject to government regulation.

The Obama administration insists that the new rules will “safeguard competition and user choice” by treating all internet traffic equally.

Most tech companies like Facebook and Google favor net neutrality, while most broadband providers — particularly smaller ones — oppose it. It’s difficult to know how all this would affect the ordinary consumer or business who, in general, is no fan of either group.

According to U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, however, “If the FCC turns the Internet into a regulated public utility, the innovation, the creativity that has characterized the Internet from its dawn, will inevitably be stifled.”

FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, seems to agree with Cruz and other like-minded opponents of the new regs. In an op-ed co-authored with Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright in the Chicago Tribune, Pai challenged several assumptions put forth by the Obama administration, including a callback to the unfulfilled “if you like your plan, you can keep your plan” Obamacare promise.

“If you like your wireless plan, you should be able to keep it. But new federal regulations may take away your freedom to choose the best broadband plan for you… while the plan contains no shortage of regulations, the most problematic may be the new ‘Internet conduct’ rule. It’s a vague rule that gives the FCC almost unfettered discretion to micromanage virtually every aspect of the Internet, including the choices that consumers have for accessing it… The great irony here is that the Internet isn’t broken, and we don’t need the president’s plan to ‘fix’ it. Quite the opposite. The Internet is an unparalleled success story. It is a free, open and thriving platform for civic and political engagement, economic growth, educational opportunity, entertainment and much more. It has made the United States the epicenter of innovation…”

Pai also claimed that net neutrality regulations, if enacted into law, would prevent the Federal Trade Commission from taking action against unfair trade practices committed by broadband providers.

Congress apparently wants to find out why net neutrality popped up again on the agency’s agenda, particularly given Chairman Tom Wheeler seemingly flip-flopped on the whole idea.

“Several congressional Republicans have accused the White House of improperly influencing the FCC net-neutrality rule-making process, after Obama called on the agency to reclassify broadband as a regulated public utility in November. Wheeler appeared to change his position and embrace that idea after the president urged the independent agency to do so, critics have said,” Computerworld explained.

Lawsuits over net neutrality will likely be the immediate outcome of the FCC’s expected vote on Thursday to implement internet regulations.

Do you think that a parallel exists between net neutrality and Obamacare?

[Photo by Michael Bocchieri/Getty Images News]

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