FCC Set to Vote on Repealing Net Neutrality Rules

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), announced on November 21 that he wants to “repeal the heavy-handed Internet regulations imposed by the Obama Administration and to return to the light-touch framework under which the Internet developed and thrived before 2015.” In other words, Pai wants to get rid of broadband internet’s federal classification as a “common carrier” under Title II of the Communications Act, effectively eliminating the net neutrality rules that currently protect consumers and small businesses from discriminatory service practices by enormous telecommunications companies.

The Verge reported on Pai’s plan to repeal broadband internet’s status as a common carrier, which is set for a vote amongst FCC members on December 14. Pai, who was originally appointed to the FCC by President Obama, then elevated to FCC Chairman by President Trump, told Reuters that should the commission–which is made up of five members, currently comprised of three Republicans and two Democrats–vote to repeal broadband internet’s classification as a common carrier (basically a necessary utility) then the FCC would “no longer be in the business of micromanaging business models and preemptively prohibiting services and applications and products that could be pro-competitive.” Pai has dubbed his effort to repeal broadband internet’s protected status as “Restoring Internet Freedom.”

Broadband internet earned its common carrier classification in 2015, when the FCC passed the Open Internet Order, which aimed to keep the internet “open for commerce, innovation, and speech,” by putting into effect a regulatory framework that would, and now does, serve as the backbone of the federal net neutrality rules that keep ISPs in check.

Without broadband internet’s common carrier classification, ISPs will have the freedom–this is the “freedom” Pai is referencing–to throttle the speed of their service to customers as they see fit, block content providers and consumers entirely, price gouge, and further violate people’s privacy. What this could look like in practice would be something like Time Warner (which is currently in the process of being bought by AT&T for $108.7 billion pending an Antitrust lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice) giving a delivery speed advantage to the content of its own subsidiary, HBO, while slowing the delivery speed of a competitor like Netflix.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg, however. Without broadband internet’s common carrier classification, ISPs could force certain content providers to pay more for better delivery speeds, effectively creating “fast lanes” for those who can afford it. Broadband internet’s classification as a common carrier was also supposed to protect consumers against ISPs tracking their online behavior without their permission, although the rules regarding that aspect of the internet’s common carrier status were already dismantled back in March of this year, when Congress voted to overturn the yet-to-take-effect privacy regulations assembled by the FCC.

The amount of people, companies, and nonprofit organizations who are against repealing broadband’s common carrier classification is overwhelming, and undoubtedly dwarfs those in favor of Pai’s restoration of “internet freedom.” Internet companies including Twitch, YouTube, Etsy, Amazon, Reddit, Spotify, Airbnb, Vimeo, Mozilla, Kickstarter, Yelp, Netflix, Twitter, and Tumblr all joined in on the “Net Neutrality Day of Action,” supporting broadband internet’s common carrier status. Nonprofits such as the ACLU and The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) also support protecting broadband internet’s common carrier status. Plus there have been  about 22 million Americans who’ve already commented on Pai’s plans, mostly in opposition. (If you need a case for the support of net neutrality and common carrier status in a nutshell, John Oliver did a great job covering the issue.)

It should also be noted that there is plenty of speculation that Pai expects his move to “restore internet freedom” to elicit a legislative response from Congress, which would appear to work against reclassification of the internet in hopes of maintaining net neutrality, while in reality, only serving to defang the FCC by limiting its ability to police ISPs’ discriminatory behavior. The same Congress that passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA) that gave ISPs the power to use consumers’ private data without their permission would more than likely be happy to pass more legislation further limiting the FCC’s power and increasing ISPs autonomy.

As mentioned, the FCC is scheduled to vote on repealing broadband internet’s common carrier status on December 14. The vote is expected to pass. If you’d like to contact your congressional representatives in the hopes of protecting net neutrality, here are a few resources that you can use: Battle for the Net, Electronic Frontier Foundation, the ACLU.

What do you think about this effort to “restore internet freedom?” Is there any way behemoth ISPs would ever do a decent job of regulating themselves? Give us your thoughts in the comments below!

Images: Credo Action

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