Net neutrality may be on the way out.
The Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 today to take the first step in rolling back, or neutralizing, as it were, the complex net neutrality regulations.
Upon taking over as FCC chair when Donald Trump became president, Commissioner Ajit Pai made it clear that net neutrality and other rules that he considered interfering with free-market innovation and competition were on the chopping block.
In December 2016, Pai gave a speech in which he said that “We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” the Los Angeles Times reported at the time.
Pai and GOP colleague Michael O’Reilly today voted to begin the process of drafting new rules and opening them up for public comment that could lead to a net neutrality phase-out, with Democrat Mignon Clyburn voting against. The commission has two vacancies, but once filled, it will keep the Republicans in the majority.
The FCC’s new plan and notice of proposed rulemaking, called Restoring Internet Freedom, Docket 17-108, proposes, among other things, a reinstatement of the light-touch regulatory framework that prevailed during the Bill Clinton administration and to abolish the vague internet conduct standard. It also wants to restore the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to oversee ISP privacy practices. Comments are due on July 17, with reply comments required by August 16.
Net neutrality rules “has put at risk online investment and innovation, threatening the very open Internet it purported to preserve,” the FCC declared.
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 actually affects the ordinary consumer or business who, in general, is no fan of either group. At the risk of oversimplification, to some degree it may come down to who is best situated to take the lead in internet operations: the government or the private sector.
In a party line vote on February 26, 2015, with the Democrats holding the majority at the time, the FCC voted 3-2 in favor of a complicated 300-plus-page set of regulations that reclassified Internet Service Providers as so-called common carriers or public utilities, like old-time phone companies, thereby making them subject to federal government regulation.
The FCC derived its regulatory authority to do so from Title II of the vintage Communications Act of 1934. Then Chairman Tom Wheeler was initially against enacting net neutrality regulations until he was apparently prodded by Obama in the other direction.
At the time, Pai warned that net neutrality would give the agency the ability to micromanage every aspect of the web, which is inconsistent with the stated goal of a free and open internet.
“The move highlights the uphill battle for Democrats and consumer advocates, who say that weaker rules could allow Internet service providers to abuse their position as gatekeepers between customers and the rest of the Internet…But Pai and many Internet providers say that the rules are onerous and discourage companies from spending money on their networks to provide faster and better service,” the Washington Post explained about today’s developments in the net neutrality saga.
Whichever direction the FCC takes in crafting the final rule which will be probably voted on in the fall, legal challenges are likely.
Parenthetically, some pro net-neutrality demonstrators outside the FCC headquarters in Washington today who apparently also favor a free and open internet also demanded through their signs the censorship of Infowars, Breitbart, and the Drudge Report websites, the Washington Free Beacon noted. While Infowars has a controversial reputation, Drudge is a high-traffic aggregation site with no original content.
An online crusade by HBO Last Week Tonight host John Oliver in favor of the retention of net neutrality rules “is full of bot accounts, fake comments, and death threats against the chairman,” the Washington Free Beacon previously claimed.
[Featured Image by Andrew Harnik/AP Images]