The FCC has published its initial proposal as to how it intends to abolish net neutrality. Despite what the agency’s chairman Ajit Pai has said about preserving consumers’ rights, the suggested Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) reads as if it’s been created specifically for the benefit of broadband providers.
At the heart of the current net neutrality debate is Title II, part of the 1934 Communications Act that offers strong authority for regulating telecommunications. FCC used it to reclassify broadband providers as telecoms in 2015 and restrict them with Open Internet rules, which were seen as a major defeat by the providers and other opponents of regulation. Championed by the Republican, ex-Verizon lawyer Pai, the proposed NPRM focuses on re-reclassifying broadband under Title I, where it was before.
Although Pai claimed that consumers would still be protected, only with a lighter touch, it’s unclear how exactly he plans to do that. Over the last decade, the FCC tried using a number of different laws for enacting reliable protection of net neutrality, and Title II was the only one that actually worked. The end of Title II classification would effectively mean the end of net neutrality.
Pai also argued that reclassifying ISPs under Title I and returning them to the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would be the “best path toward protecting Americans’ online privacy,” because “the nation’s most expert and experienced privacy regulator” would be regulating it again. However, as opponents have pointed out repeatedly, the FTC’s oversight regime is weaker than FCC’s, and the agency can only go after violations after they’ve already happened.
Of course, you won’t hear broadband companies like Comcast or Verizon complaining — any kind of deregulation benefits them. Lifehacker has compiled “a small, non-exhaustive list” of the times major ISPs had abused their power over the years. We’ve listed a few examples here:
No wonder the FCC finally became fed up with regular complaints about various violations of net neutrality and enacted stronger regulation in 2015. However, the rules such as the no-throttling requirement may be finished very soon at the hands of the same FCC, who asked in their draft proposal innocently: “How does the rule benefit consumers, and what are its costs? When is “throttling” harmful to consumers?”
In any case, the FCC’s rule-making process includes the right for US citizens to offer comments to the commission’s staff, and many people and organizations are already doing that. A group of more than 800 startups sent Pai a letter objecting the plans to reverse the net neutrality rules, which would enable preferential treatment for larger and richer companies. Democrats in Congress are also rallying against the plans, with Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI) stating: “We must stand strong in opposition to the FCC’s attack on fairness, equality, and net neutrality.”
While people can already submit their opinions on the NPRM proposal, the official comment cycle on the questions and proposals won’t begin until after the FCC vote scheduled for May 18. The deadline for initial comments will be July 17, and the deadline for reply comments will be August 16.