On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, is expected to approve Pai's proposal to rescind 2015 open internet rules adopted under former President Barack Obama, with Pai and his two fellow Republicans, Michael O'Rielly and Brendan Carr, voting in favor and Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel strongly opposed.
The new rules will allow broadband internet providers like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T to block or throttle access to certain websites, or provide special "fast lanes" for sites, apps, or customers who pay extra. They also scrap consumer protections, prevent states from enacting rules that contradict the FCC's, and shift a good deal of the FCC's internet oversight powers to the Federal Trade Commission, which may or may not have the legal authority to regulate large broadband ISPs.
Pai's proposal is broadly unpopular — in a new poll, 83 percent of voters, including 75 percent of Republicans, favored keeping the current net neutrality rules after being presented with vetted arguments from proponents and opponents of Pai's changes by the University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation. Librarians warn it will cost taxpayers or hurt library users. Critics of the plan are already planning legal challenges, and Congress could also step in.
The proposal dismantles "virtually all of the important tenets of net neutrality itself," telecom and media analysts Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson write in a note to investors. "These changes will likely be so immensely unpopular that it would be shocking if they are allowed to stand for long." Pai argues that broadband giants will use their newfound powers for good, lowering prices and creating new services, and the broadband industry group USTelecom says the fears are unfounded and overblown. Broadband companies unsuccessfully sued to overturn the 2015 net neutrality rules and lobbied hard for Pai's proposal. Peter Weber
If Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai convinces two other FCC commissioners to vote with him Thursday, as expected, he will dismantle net neutrality, potentially allowing internet providers to slow down traffic to certain sites and favor others based on business or other decisions. But Pai has actually been on a deregulation spree at the FCC, and since he was named chairman in January, he has "rewritten the rules of the information age so thoroughly that there's no mode of communication under his control where the rules aren't looser than they were a year ago," David McCabe says at Axios.
Most of the changes allow for various forms of media consolidation, so one company can control more of local markets, but collectively they "will likely alter the way people experience the internet, broadcast TV, and even AM radio" for years to come, McCabe writes. Pai has also taken a whack at regulations that will affect nobody's life, like deregulating the telegraph industry. This move may not do anything, really, Axios notes, but it "was a boon to Pai's political rhetoric around deregulation."
The Trump administration's Federal Communications Commission is expected to announce its plans to begin dismantling of the Obama-era net neutrality rules this week, with an official rollback anticipated following a mid-December meeting, The Wall Street Journal reports.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai vowed last winter that he would take "a weed whacker" to the regulations. Pai argues that the rules — which prevent internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T from tinkering with the speed of certain websites and applications — are preventing innovation in the industry. Supporters of the standards, such as the nonpartisan Free Press, argue that "without net neutrality, cable and phone companies could carve the internet into fast and slow lanes … This would destroy the open internet."
If the dismantling is successful, internet providers will have "more flexibility to use bundles of services and creative pricing to make their favored content more attractive to consumers," The Wall Street Journal explains. Or, as Slate puts it: "Without network neutrality rules, internet providers stand to make a lot of money, since the companies will be able to operate what is essentially a two-way toll — collecting money from both subscribers and websites that want to reach those users at faster speeds."
The new rules are expected to be announced Wednesday, British tech website The Inquirer writes, adding that "the important point, as we've said before, is that once the genie is out of the bottle, getting it back in is almost impossible." Jeva Lange
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 2-1 along party lines to begin Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to significantly weaken or scrap net neutrality rules enacted in 2015, when the FCC was led by Democrats. After the vote, Pai will begin writing rules to return to what he calls "light-tough" regulations, scrapping enforceable rules to prevent broadband internet providers from favoring some websites and services over others. Pai also proposes to repeal a "general conduct" rule that allows the FCC to investigate potentially anti-competitive business practices by ISPs. This would allow ISPs to charge internet service or content providers for better speed, or throttle sites run by competitors.
Pai argues that regulation has depressed infrastructure investment by large broadband ISPs, using a study commissioned by broadband companies, and said keeping the 2015 open internet rules will dampen innovation and speed improvements. Internet companies like Google and Facebook, and other net-neutrality proponents, say Pai is addressing a problem that doesn't exist, pointing to a study backed by internet companies that shows investment in infrastructure has risen since the news rules took effect. They argue that Pai's rules would allow ISPs to abuse their role as gatekeepers, harming consumers and quashing the open tradition of the internet.
"Today we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the internet," Pai said. "The evidence strongly suggests this is the right way to go." Mignon Clyburn, the sole Democrat on the commission, disagreed. "The endgame appears to be no-touch regulation," she said, "and a wholesale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century." The FCC is supposed to have five commissioners, no more than three from one party; President Trump, who elevated Pai to chairman, has not yet nominated commissioners for the two absent seats. You can soon comment on Pai's proposed rules here. Peter Weber
FCC insists hackers, not John Oliver fans and net neutrality proponents, crashed the FCC website Monday
The first time late-night comedian John Oliver asked America's internet fans to flood the Federal Communications Commission website with comments in support of net neutrality, in 2014, they apparently did, and the FCC website quickly crashed from the traffic. Oliver renewed the call on Sunday night's Last Week Tonight, now that new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proposing to scale back the hard-fought net neutrality rules; Oliver even created a new site that directs you to the relevant FCC comment section. And sure enough, on Sunday night and early Monday, starting about half an hour after Last Week Tonight aired, the FCC's comment section was unreachable.
But that wasn't due to John Oliver fans, the FCC said Monday. "These were deliberate attempts by external actors to bombard the FCC's comment system with a high amount of traffic to our commercial cloud host," said FCC Chief Information Officer David Bray. "These actors were not attempting to file comments themselves; rather they made it difficult for legitimate commenters to access and file with the FCC."
Not everybody was convinced by the DDoS attack explanation. The timing was just too much of a coincidence, Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer told The Washington Post. "The FCC should immediately release its logs to an independent security analyst or major news outlet to verify exactly what happened last night."
In any case, the public comment section is back online, should you want to express your support or opposition to Pai's push to make net neutrality more of a voluntary proposition. And if you aren't quite sure what the fuss is about, you can watch (or rewatch) the (NSFW) John Oliver explainer below. Peter Weber
On Wednesday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai will begin his push to unwind the net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC in 2015, when Democrats held a majority of commission seats. Pai, a Republican who voted against the Open Internet rules proposed by former Chairman Tom Wheeler, has made no secret of his intention to scale back regulations since President Trump tapped him as chairman. At a speech to the conservative group FreedomWorks on Wednesday, Pai is expected to talk about his ideas regarding net neutrality — the principle that internet providers must treat all web traffic equally — but not outline any specific proposals.
Under Wheeler, the FCC reclassified internet providers as common carriers, like phone companies, allowing the commission to enforce the 2015 net neutrality rules. A federal appellate court upheld the rules in 2016. Pai will almost certainly propose scrapping the common carrier framework, and according to sources who spoke to Recode, he is leaning toward making compliance with net neutrality principles voluntary and handing over regulation of broadband to the Federal Trade Commission.
Pai has been meeting in recent weeks with the telecom industry, which fought the net neutrality rules, and tech companies, which support them. He told reporters last week that he has consistently supported "a free and open internet," but disagreed about the approach to reaching those goals. Peter Weber
The only surprise here is the timing: On Monday, the lobbying group US Telecom filed what amounts to a placeholder lawsuit to block the Federal Communications Commission's decision to reclassify broadband internet as a Title II utility, as a way to enforce net neutrality. US Telecom counts among its members Verizon, AT&T, and other broadband heavyweights. Texas provider Alamo Broadband filed a similar, separate suit Monday with the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans.
US Telecom, which filed its suit with the federal appellate court in Washington, D.C., and Alamo jumped in because they didn't want their actual lawsuits to be dismissed on a technicality. The FCC says that challenges can be filed up to 60 days after its net neutrality rules are published in the Federal Register, expected in the next few days, but the broadband companies pointed to a 10-day window from when the FCC released its rules, on March 12.
The filings on Monday were light on details, but "the focus of our legal appeal will be on the FCC's decision to reclassify broadband internet access service as a public utility service after a decade of amazing innovation and investment under the FCC's previous light-touch approach," explains Jon Banks, a US Telecom senior vice president. Which, honestly, sounds more like lobbying than a legal appeal. Peter Weber
Video-streaming powerhouse Netflix was one of the main corporate proponents of the Federal Communications Commission's recent move to enforce net neutrality. But on March 4, at an investor conference in New York, Netflix CFO David Wells said his company was "probably not" pleased the FCC had reclassified broadband internet as a Title II utility. "We were hoping there might be a non-regulated solution to it."
That prompted some gloating from net neutrality opponents. "Netflix Recants on Obamanet," wrote L. Gordon Crovitz at The Wall Street Journal. AT&T issued a statement from its top lobbyist, Jim Cicconi, saying it was "awfully hard to believe" that Wells would "go into a major investor conference and misspeak on an issue supposedly so crucial to their future." More likely, Cicconi said, "he had an attack of candor. At least 'til his company's lobbyists got hold of him."
Netflix responded with a post for "anyone interested in what... Wells actually said about net neutrality," including audio of his presentation and the full quote. After wishing for a non-regulated solution (which was shot down, thanks to a lawsuit from Verizon), Wells added, "But it seems like companies that are pursuing their commercial interests including us have to arrive at something like that." Netflix is "super pleased" that there's now a vehicle to enforce net neutrality, he said, and "I would say we are very pleased with what's been accomplished.... Essentially internet has become a utility."
Since nobody reads corporate press releases, Netflix turned to one of its most popular shows to get its message across:
@ATTPublicPolicy AT&T's lobbyist calling out lobbyists? Attack of candor, indeed.
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) March 9, 2015
And while this is probably not aimed at AT&T, it was posted directly after that reply to Ciccone:
Ready for battle. pic.twitter.com/Ey8NVFMe71
— House of Cards (@HouseofCards) March 10, 2015
Moral: Don't mess with Frank Underwood. Or something. Peter Weber