The Federal Communications Commission reignited the debate over net neutrality on Wednesday.
President Trump's recently appointed FCC chairman Ajit Pai just announced his plan to roll back Title II net neutrality rules that were put in place two years ago to ensure that the internet is an equal playing field.
“Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” Pai said in a speech at Washington D.C.'s Newseum, according to the New York Times. “It’s basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”
As The Independent reported:
Net neutrality basically prevents broadband providers from playing favourites or steering users toward (or away from) particular internet sites. Under rules enacted during the Obama administration, the likes of Comcast and Verizon — which offer their own video services they'd very much like subscribers to use — can't slow down Netflix, can't block YouTube, and can't charge Spotify extra to stream faster than Pandora.
Major telecom corporations like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T are opponents of net neutrality regulations and have spent at the minimum, dozens of millions of dollars lobbying in Washington to end them. Pai believes that the rules are hampering investment, and believes internet service providers should voluntarily protect net neutrality.
Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, has long been an opponent of net neutrality and has called the rules "heavy handed." Pai said he believes that the rules are hampering investment in telecommunications, and believes internet service providers should voluntarily choose to protect net neutrality.
The full text of Pai's proposal will be released on Thursday afternoon and the FCC will vote on it on May 18. The New York Times reported:
His plan, though still vague in details, is a sharp change from the approach taken by the last F.C.C. administration, which approved rules governing a concept known as net neutrality in 2015. The rules were intended to ensure an open internet, meaning that no content could be blocked by broadband providers and that the internet is not divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else.
"Earlier today I shared with my fellow commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light touch framework that served us so well during the Clinton Administration, Bush administration, and first six years of the Obama administration," Pai said on Wednesday, according to the Verge.
The Obama-era regulations led to major broadband privacy rules that make it more difficult for users of the internet to have their browsing and other data collected. In 2016, a federal court issued a ruling that backed Obama-era rules to define the internet as a utility and not a luxury "clearing the way for more rigorous policing of broadband providers and greater protections for web users." Those regulations were recently overturned in a bill that passed through the Republican-led Congress and was subsequently signed into law by Trump.
Pai's proposal would fully undo the Obama-era classification, and instead classify internet providers as Title I information services, which "end rules that allow the commission to evolve the rules to fit future practices, and open questions about what to do with the key no blocking and throttling rules that were implemented in 2015," according to the Verge.
“It would put consumers at the mercy of phone and cable companies,” said Craig Aaron, president of the consumer advocacy group Free Press, according to the Times. “In a fantasy world, all would be fine with a pinkie swear not to interrupt pathways and portals to the internet despite a history of doing that.”
Pai's plan will still have to endure months of public comment. Two years ago, nearly 4 million comments were sent to the FCC largely in favor of net neutrality rules. Considering that the panel now has a Republican majority, however, Pai's proposals are likely to face little resistance.
According to the Guardian, some activists, however, have hinted at “a tsunami of resistance from a grassroots movement of Americans from every walk of life.”