April 26, 2017 Last Updated 2:38 pm

FCC chairman begins process of killing off ‘net neutrality’ rules

In a speech given today at The Newseum, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai proposed rolling back rules implemented in 2015 during the Obama administration

The Federal Communications Commission chairman today announced plans to roll back regulations implemented in 2015 that were applauded by net neutrality advocates, calling the rules “heavy handed” and “widening the digital divide.”

“Earlier today, I shared with my fellow Commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light-touch regulatory framework that served our nation so well during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the first six years of the Obama Administration,” said FCC Chairmna Ajit Pai at an event held at The Newseum.

So what are the basic elements of this Notice of Proposed Rulemaking?

First, we are proposing to return the classification of broadband service from a Title II telecommunications service to a Title I information service—that is, light-touch regulation drawn from the Clinton Administration. As I mentioned earlier, this Title I classification was expressly upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005, and it’s more consistent with the facts and the law.

Second, we are proposing to eliminate the so-called Internet conduct standard. This 2015 rule gives the FCC a roving mandate to micromanage the Internet. Immediately following the FCC’s vote adopting the Title II Order, my predecessor was asked what the Internet conduct standard meant. His answer was that “we don’t really know” what it means and that “we don’t know where things go next.” I’ve never heard a better definition of regulatory uncertainty.

Critics of the move were quick to respond.

“Any effort to weaken Open Internet protections must be rejected as it could toss the streaming and Internet economy back into chaos, taking consumers back to a time when ISPs like Comcast throttled Netflix and consumers had to buffer their way through a binge,” said Chip Pickering, the CEO of INCOMPAS, the Internet and competitive networks association.

John Nichols, writing for The Nation, said “no act of the recklessly authoritarian Trump administration poses a greater threat to the democratic discourse than the now-announced plan to gut net neutrality rules.”

But the cable giants have been arguing for looser regulations, arguing that few rules will mean more services and lower prices, while also claiming that they support the tenets of net neutrality.

“We continue to support the fundamental tenants of Net neutrality,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said on Tuesday. “However, we think it’s illogical to regulate using rules that were put in place 83 years ago for the phone network.”

Net neutrality rules were passed in 2015, at a time when Democrats were a majority on the FCC. Those rules reclassified internet providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which allowed the FCC to regulate ISPs as they would utilities. Most importantly, the regulations were meant to prevent ISPs from slowing down or blocking services from competitors to AT&T and Comcast, services such as Netflix or YouTube, or streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music, in favor of services provided by the giant ISPs.

“Repealing Title II will simply restore the FTC’s authority to police broadband providers’ privacy practices. That means the nation’s most expert and experienced privacy regulator will once again be a cop on the beat protecting Americans’ online privacy,” said Pai. “In short, we will return to the tried-and-true approach that protected our digital privacy effectively before 2015.”

Pai positioned his proposals as a “plan to restore Internet Freedom” and said that the Obama administration’s regulations prevented investment in broadband investment, and cost jobs. In laying out his vision for a less regulated industry Pai said his proposals would “bring better, faster Internet service, spur job growth and economic opportunity, boost competition, secure online privacy, and “restore Internet Freedom by ending government micromanagement.”

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