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.