FCC chair aims to repeal net neutrality rules in December

FCC chair aims to repeal net neutrality rules in December

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai has announced plans to dismantle the Obama-era open internet rules.

The FCC is preparing a full repeal of net neutrality regulations, according to a statement and draft ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Order’ released yesterday by Pai.

“For almost twenty years, the internet thrived under the light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress. This bipartisan framework led the private sector to invest $1.5 trillion building communications networks throughout the United States. And it gave us an internet economy that became the envy of the world,” he said.

“But in 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the internet. That decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.

“Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades. Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC 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.”

Pai, who indicated his plans to roll back the rules back in July, added: “Additionally, as a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Notably, my proposal will put the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy.

However, some have warned that a roll-back of net neutrality regulations, which presently prohibits providers to block legal content, throttle lawful traffic or prioritising paid for content (fast lanes), could have a chilling effect on OTT diversity and could potentially clear the way for internet service providers to start charging users. Companies such as Amazon, Facebook, Google and Netflix may also be weighing up the likelihood that if the rules are repealed that telecom companies may well start prioritising their own streaming video services or impede much-used messaging tools such as Skype or WhatsApp. The internet giants have consistently urged the US regulator not to abandon net neutrality.

A rollback of the rules has also been warmly welcomed by telecom companies such as Comcast and Verizon. Verizon was quick to come out in support of the FCC’s steps to restore internet freedom proposal. “For decades, the internet flourished under a bipartisan regulatory approach that allowed it to operate, grow and succeed free of unnecessary government controls. Two years ago, the FCC reversed course radically and put in place a set of rules based on monopoly train and telephone regulation from previous centuries,” said Kathy Grillo, Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel, public policy and government affairs.

“That outdated approach was unnecessary and out of step with today’s dynamic and competitive internet. It undermined investment and innovation, and posed a significant threat to the internet’s continued ability to grow and evolve to meet consumers’ needs. Now, the FCC appears poised for a much-needed return to the approach that fostered so many years of internet openness and innovation.”

Over at Comcast, David Cohen, senior executive vice president and chief diversity officer in Open Internet, said: “We commend chairman Pai’s leadership and transparency in planning to release the order to the public three weeks before the FCC’s anticipated vote on December 14th, a welcome change from previous, closed-door approaches that hid controversial rulemaking orders and closed off public comment.

“We applaud the Chairman’s efforts to repeal the ill-advised and outdated burden of Title II classification, which has harmed broadband investment and innovation. We also commend the imposition of a transparency rule that requires ISPs to disclose their net neutrality practices to consumers. It is paramount that consumers know what their ISPs are doing. As we have said previously, this proposal is not the end of net neutrality rules.”

Comcast president and CEO of Comcast Cable, Dave Watson, also reaffirmed that the company’s “customers will enjoy strong net neutrality protections, both then and in the future, regardless of any action taken by the FCC”, adding: “Comcast does not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content.”

In contrast, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel issued the following warning: “Following actions earlier this year to erase consumer privacy protections, the Commission now wants to wipe out court-tested rules and a decade’s work in order to favour cable and telephone companies. This is ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the internet every day. Our internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all. This proposal tears at the foundation of that openness."

Pai’s statement yesterday added: “Speaking of transparency, when the prior FCC adopted President Obama’s heavy-handed internet regulations, it refused to let the American people see that plan until weeks after the FCC’s vote. This time, it’ll be different.” A full public draft of the proposal, which Pai states will “restore internet freedom”, will be released more than three weeks prior to a vote.

The FCC is scheduled to vote on the proposal, which many expect to pass in a 3-2 vote along party lines, at a monthly meeting on 14 December.

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