FCC chair unveils plan to repeal net neutrality
The days of net neutrality are numbered.
Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, unveiled his controversial plan to repeal Obama-era protections intended to keep the internet open and fair.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet,” Pai said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices.”
The repeal would represent a fundamental shift to how the internet is regulated. The current net neutrality rules, approved in 2015, internet providers like Comcast and AT&T are barred from deliberately speeding up or slowing down traffic from specific websites and apps. The goal was to prevent those internet providers from picking winners and losers among content providers.
The new proposal would do away with rules that prohibit internet providers from blocking or slowing down access to online content and services, according to senior FCC officials outlining the changes on a call with reporters. It would also eliminate a rule barring providers from prioritizing their own content, or the content of third-party services it strikes deals with.
In the absence of a firm ban on these actions, providers will be required to publicly disclose any instance of blocking, throttling or paid prioritization, according to the FCC officials. It will then be evaluated based on whether or not the activity is anti-competitive.
Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, has been a longtime critic of the net neutrality rules. Since President Trump appointed him as FCC chairman in January, Pai has made reversing the rules a key part of his deregulatory agenda.
Pai’s decision to seek a full repeal of the rules was praised by the telecommunications trade groups as a boon for broadband investment, but loudly panned by the tech industry and consumer advocacy groups.
The Internet Association, a trade group that represents Facebook, Google and Amazon, described Pai’s proposal as “the end of net neutrality as we know it.”
“This proposal undoes nearly two decades of bipartisan agreement on baseline net neutrality principles that protect Americans’ ability to access the entire internet,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, said in a statement.
Sen. Ron Wyden, a Democrat representing Oregon, called the proposal “the crowning achievement of the most anti-consumer FCC chair in history.”
The announcement comes more than six months after the FCC kicked off the lengthy process to roll back the net neutrality protections. It received millions of comments during a review period, with the majority supporting the current protections. Much of the tech industry also staged protests in defense of net neutrality.
Pai began circulating his proposal among the FCC commissioners on Tuesday. The full proposal will be made public on Wednesday.
Mignon Clyburn, one of the two Democratic FCC commissioners, slammed the timing of the release as a “Pre-Holiday News Dump.”
“In just two days, many of us will join friends and family in celebrating the spirit of Thanksgiving,” Clyburn said in a statement to CNN Tech. “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.”
The FCC will vote on the repeal at its monthly hearing December 14. The Republican-led agency is expected to approve it on a party-line vote. If it does, the issue may head to court.
“Whenever we do anything big and major, people go to court,” a senior FCC official said on the call. “I certainly would not rule that out.”