Trump-designated Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is by all accounts hell bent on scrapping the “net neutrality regulations that require internet providers to treat all content equally.”
The net neutrality provisions, which were “enacted by the Obama administration in 2015,” limit the power of “monopolistic internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon” to control how its customers access online content.
So now Pai has set up a meeting of the FCC on December 14 to vote on the repeal.
And it’s a foregone conclusion that the vote will result in a win for Pai’s agenda, and the telecom industry, which, according to “regulators, consumer advocates and some tech companies,” will give internet service providers even more power than they already have “to block or slow down rival offerings.”
A repeal also opens the ability for ISPs to charge a company like Netflix for a faster path to its customers. Allowing this paid-priority market to exist could skew prices and create winners and losers among fledgling companies that require a high-speed connection to end users.
Pai, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, said in an interview on Fox News Radio that Trump did not have any input on his proposal. Asked whether deregulation would result in higher prices and put speedy internet access out of the reach of blue-collar Americans, Pai said “it’s going to mean exactly the opposite.”
“These heavy-handed regulations have made it harder for the private sector to build out the networks especially in rural America,” Pai said.
Consumer groups and internet companies, however, are not buying Pai’s reassurances. Neither is the paying public out there:
A data firm called Emprata that was backed by a telecom industry group found in August that after filtering out form letters, the overwhelming majority of comments to the FCC — about 1.8 million — favored net neutrality, compared with just 24,000 who supported its repeal.
Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition, said ISPs’ ability to impose monthly caps on data use already act to raise prices and limit access. Repealing net neutrality, she said, “is just erecting more barriers.”
In an article chillingly titled, “The Republican Plan to Nuke the Internet Is About to Be Revealed,” Vanity Fair columnist Maya Kosoff recaps the necessity of the strict Obama era regulation “to prevent large Internet service providers from destroying small businesses or overcharging consumers.”
While the exact details of the plan are not yet public, Pai’s initial proposal, which sought to undo the Title II classification of service providers, was a roadmap to radically reshape the Internet. Rather than actually enforcing net-neutrality rules, the F.C.C. would ask Internet providers to promise in writing not to slow down competitors’ traffic or block Web sites, a voluntary system that the agency would not enforce. Enforcement powers would instead be handed to the Federal Trade Commission, which could punish Internet service providers for deceptive or unfair trade practices, but could not force them to make such promises to consumers in the first place. There would be nothing to stop Internet providers from changing their terms of service to allow them to control access speeds at will, though I.S.P.s have curiously insisted that they would welcome laws that ban throttling content.