Net neutrality going down in flames as FCC votes to kill Title II rules
GOP’s 2-1 majority starts repeal process, with final vote coming later in 2017.
By JON BRODKIN
May 18 2017
The Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 today to start the process of eliminating net neutrality rules and the classification of home and mobile Internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act.
The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposes eliminating the Title II classification and seeks comment on what, if anything, should replace the current net neutrality rules. But Chairman Ajit Pai is making no promises about reinstating the two-year-old net neutrality rules that forbid ISPs from blocking or throttling lawful Internet content, or prioritizing content in exchange for payment. Pai’s proposal argues that throttling websites and applications might somehow help Internet users.
The FCC plans to take comments on its plan until August 16 (the docket is available here) and then make a final decision sometime after that.
The net neutrality rules were approved in February 2015 when Republicans were in the commission’s minority. Today, Pai and fellow Republican Michael O’Rielly voted in favor of the plan to eliminate the rules while Democrat Mignon Clyburn voted to preserve them.
“The Internet was not broken in 2015” before the rules were imposed, Pai said today before the vote. “We were not living in a digital dystopia. Nonetheless, the FCC that year succumbed to partisan pressure from the White House and changed course.” The rules imposed new regulatory burdens on ISPs both large and small, he said. The Title II rules also raised “the possibility of broadband rate regulation,” making ISPs hesitate before building or expanding networks, he said.
The fear of rate regulation on consumer broadband services is based on hypotheticals, because the FCC has not imposed any rate regulation on home or mobile broadband.
O’Rielly today said that he dissented from the net neutrality vote in 2015 “because I was not persuaded based on the record before us that there was evidence of harm to businesses or consumers that warranted the adoption of the net neutrality rules, much less the imposition of heavy-handed Title II regulation on broadband providers.”
Pro-net neutrality group Free Press recently published an updated list of alleged net neutrality violations by ISPs through the years.
“This is the beginning of the process, not the end,” Pai said. After taking public comment for 90 days, the FCC “will follow the facts and law where they take us,” Pai said. He also said the FCC will conduct a “credible cost-benefit analysis” before making final policy decisions.
The FCC “will not rely on hyperbolic statements about the end of the Internet as we know it, and 140-character argle-bargle, but rather on the data,” Pai said.
Besides overturning the Title II classification, the NPRM “proposes to eliminate the catch-all Internet conduct standard created by the Title II Order,” the FCC’s announcement of the vote said. “Because the Internet conduct standard is extremely vague and expansive, ISPs must guess at what they are permitted to do. Eliminating the Internet conduct standard is therefore expected to promote innovation and network investment by eliminating regulatory uncertainty.”
That standard allows the FCC to judge on a case-by-case basis whether actions by ISPs harm consumers or competitors, by requiring rates and practices to be “just” and “reasonable.”