FCC to Start Repealing Net Neutrality Rules
On April 26, Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), kicked off the process to scrap the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. The move had been somewhat expected after the recent repeal of the broadband privacy rules, but that hasn’t prevented widespread criticism, indicating the start of a new battle over the future of the Internet.
The New York Times described the new plan as “a rebuke of a landmark policy approved two years ago to ensure that all online content is treated the same by the companies that deliver broadband service to Americans”.
History of the Net Neutrality Debate
The main target of Pai’s net neutrality rollback is FCC’s decision from February 2015, which reclassified Internet service providers (ISPs) as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. That resulted in rules that banned ISPs from blocking or throttling content, or from favoring some types of websites over others when providing Internet services to consumers.
FCC’s previous chairman, Democrat Tom Wheeler, along with companies such as Google and Netflix that rely on mass public use of broadband Internet, welcomed the net neutrality regulations as a way to prevent service providers from interfering with web content. Republican Pai, who was serving as one of the FCC commissioners at the time, didn’t agree and instead chose to support ISPs, who claimed that the Obama administration’s move was leading to even greater regulation.
Now that the election of Donald Trump has propelled Pai into the agency’s top position, he has the chance to undo a number of the rules he had recently voted against.
The Case for Repeal
During his April 26 speech, Pai argued that the FCC didn’t need to resort to Title II to preserve net neutrality. According to Pai, keeping the existing rules could harm the commercial Internet, which he described as “one of the most incredible free market innovations in history.”
Therefore, Pai announced his intention to introduce a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) at the FCC’s May 18 open meeting, which could lead to a final vote later this year. One of the hottest debate topics is likely to involve the Bright Line Rules on blocking and prioritization, which now prevent ISPs from abusing their power by throttling traffic to their competitors or those who don’t pay extra for their service.
Big carriers like Verizon and AT&T have repeatedly described the net neutrality rules as too cumbersome and getting in the way of their ability to present attractive offers to consumers and businesses. However, many Internet companies and online rights groups say the rules are critical for protecting innovation and free expression.
Fighting for Net Neutrality
The opponents of Pai’s proposals have already resumed the battle that was thought to have ended in 2015. Tech companies and entrepreneurs are lobbying Congress and trying to get government regulators on their side. “Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the Internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market,” a protest letter signed by more than 800 US startups, states. “They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors.”
Fight for the Future, a digital rights organization, has issued a statement claiming that the FCC was “playing with fire and potentially opening the floodgates for widespread censorship.” Evan Greer, the group’s campaign director, expects Internet users to “fight tooth and nail” to defend their online rights.
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