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FCC Chairman Announces Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality Regulations

Many of us hoped the net neutrality battle was over two years ago when the FCC implemented Title II classification of internet service providers. However, the election of Donald Trump and ascendance of FCC commissioner Ajit Pai to the chairmanship suggested the fight was about to pick up again. Indeed, chairman Pai has released a plan to roll back the 2015 Title II “common carrier” reclassification, essentially gutting net neutrality in the US.

By reclassifying ISPs under Title II of the telecommunications act, the FCC was able to apply some key regulations that activists and internet users at large had long sought. Under Title II, ISPs were prevented from blocking sites and apps, throttling the speed of sites and apps, and offering paid fast lanes for select companies. The FCC also gained oversight of interconnect agreements between networks and large content companies like Netflix. The end result was ISPs couldn’t “pick winners” by making certain applications faster or more accessible.

ISPs have been railing against net neutrality since it was implemented, and Republicans at all levels of government have been backing them up. Thus far, none of the legal challenges to the FCC’s authority have gone anywhere, but Pai could undo all of that with his new plan. According to the overview provided by Pai, his plan would instead recognize ISPs under Title I information services with “light touch” regulation. This would prevent the FCC from implementing anything like the neutrality rules we have now.

TomWheeler

Former chairman Tom Wheeler implemented net neutrality rules in 2015.

Advocates of net neutrality contend that the increasing size and power of ISPs represents an urgent threat to the freedom of the internet. Ensuring that all data and applications are treated the same is necessary to provide equal access for consumers and businesses alike. On the other side, Pai claims that investment in broadband has decreased since the net neutrality rollout. Although, Pai didn’t cite his sources here, and many on the other side of the aisle disagree with the assertion. Whatever the concerns, Title II has not crippled broadband providers—ISPs are still reporting huge profits and their stock prices are up.

The full plan will be released tomorrow, at which time we’ll have a better idea what Pai plans to do with regard to “light touch” regulation. There will be a preliminary vote on May 18th for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). Three months of public comment will follow, after which a vote on undoing net neutrality could be held. Numerous internet companies have already come out against Pai’s proposal, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Netflix. Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups are also lining up in opposition.

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