Say goodbye to net neutrality as we know it. In a major policy speech delivered this afternoon at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., FCC Chairman Ajit Pai officially unveiled his net neutrality proposals by “restoring internet freedom” through the repeal of Obama-era regulations. Naturally, Pai says such a decision will benefit all Americans. Here’s how his new approach, in his view, would do so.
In opening remarks, Adam Brandon, president of Freedom Works, a conservative and libertarian advocacy group based in Washington D.C., set the tone for what Pai would be announcing.
“A lot of people are talking today about President Trump’s first 100 days, and I would suggest that, yes, the Supreme Court is a big deal,” Brandon said. “But the things that Chairman Pai are working on right now potentially will have the longest impact coming out of this administration.”
Brandon expressed concern that the Obama Administration would put limits on the ability to let the market develop technology change, and opening up the internet — “throw open the internet in a way that increases competition and does away with trying to have a Nanny State regulation.”
A series of other conservative speakers appearing before Chairman Pai took to the podium all supported today’s announcement regarding where net neutrality stands in the U.S.
Moving forward, a “light-touch regulatory framework” will return, allowing the internet “to grow and evolve” as it did for “almost two decades” prior to the Obama Administration, Pai said.
“Two years ago, the federal government’s approach suddenly changed,” Pai explained. “The FCC, on a party-line vote, decided to impose a set of heavy-handed regulations upon the Internet. It decided to slap an old regulatory framework called ‘Title II’—originally designed in the 1930s for the Ma Bell telephone monopoly—upon thousands of Internet service providers, big and small. It decided to put the federal government at the center of the Internet.”
Why? “It was all about politics,” Pai bluntly remarked, saying, “Nothing about the Internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed. And, there wasn’t a rash of Internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications, or services of their choice.”
‘WE MUST END ‘TITLE II”
Now, with a regulation-slashing Trump Administration in the White House, Pai is taking action.
“Earlier today (4/26), I shared with my fellow Commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of ‘Title II’ and return to the light-touch regulatory framework that served our nation so well during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the first six years of the Obama Administration,” he said, explaining that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking will be voted on at the Commission’s May Open Meeting.
It’s likely to be adopted by a 2-1 party-line vote; Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was set to offer opposing views, along with House Democrats on the Energy & Commerce Committee, at a press conference set for 4:30pm Eastern on Wednesday.
If the NPRM is adopted, the FCC will seek public input on the proposal. “In other words, this will be the beginning of the discussion, not the end,” Pai said.
Pai’s office notes that the entire text of the chairman’s proposal will be made available for the public’s review “long before the FCC votes.” In fact, Pai will release the draft text of the NPRM on Thursday (4/27). In 2015, by contrast, the FCC kept the text of its 313-page regulatory plan “secret” until after the Commission had voted.
HOW PAI’S PLAN WILL BENEFIT AMERICANS
Pai’s plan to abandon Title II, in his opinion, will accomplish five key objectives. First, he says, it will spur broadband deployment throughout the country and thus bring better, faster Internet service to more Americans.
Second, Pai says it will create jobs by putting Americans to work deploying broadband networks and by creating the networks and online opportunities necessary for additional job growth and economic opportunity.
Additionally, the removal of Title II will, in his eyes, boost competition and choice in the broadband marketplace while also securing online privacy by putting the FTC—the nation’s premier consumer protection agency—back in charge of broadband providers’ privacy practices.
Lastly, Pai believes his moves will restore internet freedom by ending government micromanagement and returning to the bipartisan regulatory framework that worked well for decades.
To little surprise, Pai says the end of Title II is the result of its failure, saying that investment in broadband networks declined, plans to deploy new and upgraded broadband infrastructure were shelved, thousands of good-paying jobs were lost due to lower infrastructure investment, and Americans’ online privacy was weakened because Title II completely stripped the FTC of its authority over broadband providers’ privacy and data security practices.
Following Pai, Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly took to the podium in support of his GOP colleague. O’Rielly says the process has started to “free the internet” and that “this archaic regime” should have never been made, bringing “evidence-based” regulation back to internet regulation.
The end of Title II was met with lukewarm reaction from Berin Szóka, President of TechFreedom.
“The debate of the last decade has never really been about ‘net neutrality,’ but the FCC’s sweeping claims of power over the Internet,” he said. “In 2008, the Republican FTC was ready to bring action against Comcast for throttling BitTorrent traffic in 2007 — a clear ‘net neutrality’ violation. But, the Republican FCC made vague claims of ‘ancillary jurisdiction’ over the Internet to support an attempt to police net neutrality case by case. This shut the FTC out of the discussion and needlessly began a decade of litigation over the FCC’s authority. Internet freedom advocates presciently warned that this was a ‘Trojan Horse’ for further interventions, like copyright crackdowns. But once Democrats took over the FCC, that well-deserved skepticism disappeared. Whatever party is in charge, we simply can’t trust the FCC not to abuse its powers.”
SHOULD CONGRESS RULE ON NET NEUTRALITY?
Szóka believes Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) hold the true power in deciding on net neutrality, and not Pai — or his predecessor or successor.
“Telecom policy shouldn’t swing like a pendulum between elections, and the FCC can’t resolve this debate on its own,” Szóka said. “Only the Supreme Court can finally say what existing telecom law means, and only Congress can finally decide what it should mean. A challenge to Title II is still pending, and it may make its way to the Supreme Court by early October. Whatever happens on the legal front, this debate won’t end until Congressional Democrats come to the table and negotiate over legislation.”