Update: The meeting was temporarily suspended while law enforcement officers search the hearing room with police dogs presumably because of a bomb threat. The FCC is now back in session.
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 reclassifies 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.
Chairman Pai has previously made it clear that Obama-era rules that he considered interfering with free-market innovation and competition were on the chopping block. When it comes to the Internet, Pai has stated repeatedly that he wants to reintroduce to the so-called light-touch regulatory regime that was in effect from the Bill Clinton administration forward up until two years ago. A net neutrality rollback, a process which started in May, would return jurisdiction over ISPs to the Federal Trade Commission.
Most if not all “Big Social” tech companies 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, neither of which, in general, is necessarily a fan of either industry 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 the run-up to the vote, Pai called out the tech giants for blocking content that they don’t like (usually for political reasons) while at the same time pushing for regulation of ISPs based on a premise of a free and open Internet.
The Pai-led proposal is called “Restoring Internet Freedom.”
There seems to be much angst, if not hysteria, on Twitter at the moment about the impending repeal of a two-year-old regulatory regime, however. Whatever happens today will nonetheless be subject to an immediate challenge in federal court. Congress could also intervene with legislation.
The Washington Post summarizes the issues in net neutrality.
“Consumer advocates fear that those freedoms could be curtailed in a world where Internet providers are legally permitted to give preferential treatment to sites they own or share commercial relationships with, and to discriminate against apps they do not like…Internet providers vigorously contest that prediction. They argue there is no financial incentive to penalize specific apps or services, that giving some sites the option of faster service could in fact benefit consumers, and that the new rules allow the Federal Trade Commission to sue carriers that act anti-competitive.”
Watch the online stream of the FCC net neutrality hearing and the expected vote.