FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed a plan that would eliminate Obama-era regulations.
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The Federal Communications Commission has officially released its regulations that would, if approved, replace the net neutrality rules passed in 2015 under President Obama.
Those rules, supported by then-President Obama and passed by the agency when it was chaired by Democrat Tom Wheeler, banned the blocking and throttling of consumer-sought legal content online.
Current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Republican appointed to the post by President Trump, voted against those rules as a commissioner and has championed another strategy: fewer less cumbersome regulations to free up Internet service providers (ISPs) to better invest and innovate.
Pai’s announcement Tuesday about the new proposed rules — and Wednesday’s release of the 200-plus page document which includes the official draft order — set off a clamor of debate about the issue, which will likely continue even after the Republican-controlled FCC is expected to pass the order at its Dec. 14 meeting.
Opponents including consumer interest groups, Congressional Democrats and Internet-based companies small and large decry the overturning of the 2015 rules as a move that reduces competition and gives too much power to large ISPs such as AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon. Higher broadband prices and tolls for content could follow, they say.
“This vote will negatively impact small and medium-sized Internet business, and has the potential to decrease jobs and economic growth system-wide, to the benefit of a very few large organization,” said Christian Dawson, executive director of i2Coalition, a group of Net infrastructure companies which includes Amazon and Google.
But proponents including telecom trade groups and ISPs tout the FCC’s plan as a tempered form of net neutrality. “This proposal is not the end of net neutrality rules,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s chief diversity officer and a senior executive vice president, in a statement.
The new rules would require ISPs to disclose any blocking, throttling and prioritization of content — what some call a “fast lane” — of its own content or a partner’s content for pay or not. The 2015 rules prohibited blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. States are also prohibited from enacting their own laws that would conflict with the FCC regulations.
This FCC transparency requirement and the re-establishment of the Federal Trade Commission to oversee broadband services, provides the agencies “the authority to take action against any ISP which does not make its open Internet practices clearly known to consumers, and if needed enforce against any anti-competitive or deceptive practices,” Cohen said.
The FCC’s proposal also rescinds an “Internet Conduct Standard” that the previous FCC created to protect against new ISP practices that harm consumers.
That standard “micromanaged innovative business models,” the new order says. “The conduct rules are unnecessary because the transparency requirement we adopt, together with antitrust and consumer protection laws, ensures that consumers have means to take remedial action if an ISP engages in behavior inconsistent with an open Internet.”
Consumers should note that any protections under the new rules come after an ISP takes an action, says Gigi Sohn, a fellow with Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy and a former counselor to Wheeler at the FCC.
In a Mashable opinion column, she encourages interested citizens to contact their Congressional representatives “to get Republicans to urge Pai not to proceed once they recognize that repeal of the net neutrality rules, like repeal of the broadband privacy rules before it, is extremely unpopular and will hurt them at the ballot box in 2018.”
While this is a divisive issue, the Congress could solve the constant flip-flopping of FCC strategies with updated internet legislation, the editors of Bloomberg suggest in a column.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has suggested such a solution several times. “Innovation and job creation should no longer take a backseat to partisan point-scoring,” he said back in May. “It is time for Congress to finally settle this matter.”
The new rules went much further than expected and could be designed to spur Congress to act, say analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson of New York tech research firm MoffettNathanson in a research note Wednesday.
Passage of the new rules will create “a crisis that Congress would feel compelled to address,” they said. The result could be a bipartisan bill, they say. “These changes will likely be so immensely unpopular that it would be shocking if they are allowed to stand for long.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Mike Snider on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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