On Wednesday, the FCC will release to the public the full text of an Order drafted by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that would remove Title II classification of broadband — a move that came in 2015 in a 3-2 Democratic-led vote by the Commission under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler.
This meeting is also scheduled to include a vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) drafted by Pai seeking comment on the FCC’s national television multiple
ownership rule, also known as the national cap, including the UHF discount.
But, the pending end of “Net Neutrality” was clearly the big attention-grabber, with applause muted by criticism from across Washington. Meanwhile, one Commissioner slammed Chairman Pai for revealing two controversial plans in a pre-Thanksgiving “news dump.”
In a glimpse of how the voting on the end of Title II classification for broadband will play out on Dec. 14, the newest Commissioner — Republican Brendan Carr — said Pai’s draft Order “would restore Internet freedom by reversing the Obama-era FCC’s regulatory overreach.”
This is a common refrain from all Republicans and the American Enterprise Institute, which had a strong influence on the FCC’s transition from Chairman Wheeler to Chairman Pai.
Carr continued, “Prior to the FCC’s 2015 decision, consumers and innovators
alike benefited from a free and open Internet because the FCC abided by a 20-year, bipartisan consensus that the government should not control or heavily regulate Internet access. The Internet flourished under this framework. So, I fully support returning to this approach, which will promote innovation and investment for the benefit of all Americans. I look forward to casting my vote in support of Internet freedom.”
With that support comes a “yes” vote from Commissioner Michael O’Rielly; a “no” vote would be as likely as a snowstorm in Miami Beach.
Meanwhile, Tech Freedom President Berin Szóka reiterated his belief that, “absent legislation, or a clear Supreme Court decision in still-pending litigation, the question of the FCC’s legal authority will simply keep ping-ponging back and forth depending on which party controls the FCC.”
When, and if, Congress acts would likely come following the 3-2 December vote, however. And, Congress has had since May 18 to respond to the NPRM that put net neutrality’s fate in jeopardy.
FOUL FOWL RELEASED IN D.C.
The two Democratic Commissioners on the FCC each immediately expressed their disapproval of Pai’s Net Neutrality Order.
While Jessica Rosenworcel took to Twitter to rally opposition to the Order, Mignon Clyburn slammed Pai for what she called a “news dump” on the media just 48 hours before families across the U.S. gather for the Thanksgiving Day holiday.
She said, “In just two days, many of us will join friends and family in celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving. But as we learned today, the FCC majority is about to deliver a cornucopia full of rotten fruit, stale grains, and wilted flowers topped off with a plate full of burnt turkey. Their ‘Destroying Internet Freedom Order’ would dismantle net neutrality as we know it by giving the green light to our nation’s largest broadband providers to engage in anti-consumer practices, including blocking, slowing down traffic, and paid prioritization of online applications and services.”
She then turned her attention to the to-be-introduced NPRM that would potentially remove the current national TV audience cap for broadcast television owners.
“Tucked away in this ‘Pre-Holiday News Dump’ is yet another proposal that reportedly seeks to allow even greater media consolidation,” Clyburn lamented. “Ignoring federal law, it could open the doors to a single company reaching in excess of the 39% national broadcast audience cap set by Congress more than a decade ago.”
Continuing, Clyburn said that “this most unwelcome #ThanksgivingFail is simply a giveaway to the nation’s largest communications companies, at the expense of consumers and innovation. It is not only bad public policy but is legally suspect. I hope my colleagues will see the light, and put these drafts where they belong: in the trash heap.”
“The FCC majority is about to deliver a cornucopia full of rotten fruit, stale grains, and wilted flowers topped off with a plate full of burnt turkey.” — Mignon Clyburn
FIGHT FOR NET NEUTRALITY WILL NOT END
The pending removal of Title II classification for broadband was met with reaction from House Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.)
Should net neutrality be taken up in Congress, with legislation rather than the Commission deciding what shall be law, Pallone will clearly side with Clyburn and Rosenworcel on the matter.
“Net neutrality is essential for protecting free speech online and allowing small businesses to flourish, and that’s why the American people spoke out by the millions in defense of these important protections,” Pallone said. “In making this announcement today, the Trump FCC is choosing to ignore the public and push forward with a harmful plan to kill net neutrality and destroy the internet as we know it. But the fight is not over—we will keep fighting to keep net neutrality and protect the free and open internet.”
Pallone’s view will likely fall on deaf ears in the House, which Republicans control.
House E&C Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) released a joint statement in full support of a “light-touch regulatory regime.”
They said, “The past two years of heavy-handed regulation will be only a blip on the screen of a decades-long bipartisan equilibrium that successfully supported innovation and growth. We also remain committed to ensuring clear, permanent net neutrality rules through the legislative process, encouraging investment in broadband build out, and closing the digital divide across America.”
Echoing these sentiments is American Cable Association President/CEO Matthew M. Polka. The head of the lobbying group that represents small-sized and rural MVPDs across the U.S. said, “Since the beginning of his tenure in January, Chairman Pai has focused intently on giving American consumers ‘more’ — more high-performance networks, more innovative services, and more choices. His proposed Restoring Internet Freedom order will further achieve this aim by removing the dark cloud of Title II regulation that has hung over the industry and deterred investment by the many hundreds of Internet Services Providers throughout the country, including in smaller communities and rural areas.”
Polka added that the Order will not only drive investment, but it will come at no cost to an “open Internet.” He said, “The ISPs that are ACA members have always stood steadfast in providing their customers with unfettered access to the Internet, regardless of whether there were regulations on the books. Treating your customers well is simply good business, and that practice will not change with this decision.”