The FCC plans to unilaterally give up its net neutrality authority with little to replace it — Quartz
The Federal Communications Commission has announced a “total repeal” of Obama-era net neutrality rules, a sweeping rejection of Obama-era rules meant to keep the internet a level playing field and prevent companies from charging additional fees for faster internet access. The FCC will likely vote on the rules Dec. 14, but the move surely will create a fierce court battle with parties already promising to pursue it to the Supreme Court (paywall).
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement (pdf). “Instead, the F.C.C. would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
The move has already set off a furious fight over how the government should regulate companies connecting Americans to the internet. No less than 21 million public comments (many of them from bots or dubious sources) were submitted to the FCC’s website when it originally opened for comments.
In theory, Republicans and Democrats agree on a free and open internet. In policy terms, the disagreement is bitter. Net neutrality is generally defined as ensuring internet service providers do not block, slow, or otherwise discriminate against specific content and applications. An internet without these rules could see customers pay more for certain services (such as Netflix), and internet providers degrade internet speeds unless companies agree to pay more, which could exclude startups from the web in favor of deep-pocketed incumbents.
Democrats want to treat all content equally with strict agency oversight based on a history of abuse by telecoms. Republicans argue that letting the industry rely on voluntary guidelines and arms-length regulation by the Federal Trade Commission for anti-competive or abusive behavior is preferable. Federal authority to regulate the internet is seen as a potential abuse of power and could stifle innovation.
The rules proposed by Pai, an appointee of President Donald Trump, fall squarely on the Republicans’ wish list. The draft rules would lift a ban on blocking or slowing web traffic (so-called paid fast lanes), scrap regulatory authority to police behavior deemed unreasonable by the FCC, and overturn the FCC’s legal basis to enforce net neutrality provisions by dropping telecoms’ classification as utilities. The plan would require, Politico reports, internet service providers to tell customers when they are blocking or throttling content.
Pai has pledged to protect net neutrality by handing enforcement off to the Federal Trade Commission, which has latitude to enforce “truth in advertising” commitments for public statements made by internet providers. US Telecom, the trade association representing internet providers, has pledged to uphold net neutrality principles, although the specifics are still hazy.
Pai told PBS the Obama rules will hinder investment to expand broadband. “My concern is that, by imposing those heavy-handed economic regulations on internet service providers big and small, we could end up disincentivizing companies from wanting to build out internet access to a lot of parts of the country in low-income, urban and rural areas,” he said.
That argument is still speculative. Investments by telecoms since the FCC adopted a stricter net neutrality stance have not changed much (although this could take years to appear in the data). The net neutrality advocacy group Free Press disputes the argument, saying that investment is affected by interest rates, competition, economic growth and consumer demand. “Net Neutrality and Title II are benefiting businesses and internet users alike,” its report argued. “The case is clear. ”