Net neutrality is on its last legs.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to back Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to do away with Net neutrality, a set of rules that restricts the actions of Internet service providers.
It was no surprise that Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly voted in favor of the proposal while Democrat Commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted against it. Pai indicated he would do everything he could to dismantle Net neutrality when he was named FCC chairman to replace Democrat Tom Wheeler, who stepped down in January.
Under Net neutrality, blocking and throttling are major no-nos as is paid prioritization. It meant Internet service companies could not implement “fast lanes” for streaming video providers willing to fork over enough cash to give their content a leg up from their competition.
Now that the FCC has voted against the plan, however, the matter will again be open for public comment before a final vote takes place later this year.
But it is doubtful either side will change its mind.
Pai and O’Rielly view the pre-Net neutrality era as a “light-touch regulatory framework” that enabled the Internet to flourish.
Pai, in a speech before the vote, said:
The Internet wasn’t broken in 2015. We were not living in a digital dystopia. Nonetheless, the FCC that year succumbed to pressure from the White House and changed course. Even though the FCC couldn’t find any evidence of market failure, it turned its back on almost two decades of success. It imposed upon all Internet service providers (ISPs), big and small, the heavy-handed regulatory framework designed during the Roosevelt Administration to micromanage the AT&T telephone monopoly. These utility-style regulations, known as “Title II,” were and are like the proverbial sledgehammer being wielded against the flea—except that here, there was no flea.
As a result of these rules, small ISPs faced new regulatory burdens associated with common carrier compliance. Innovative providers hoping to offer their customers new, even free services had to fear a Washington bureaucracy that might disapprove and take enforcement action against them. With the possibility of broadband rate regulation looming on the horizon, companies investing in next-generation networks hesitated to build or expand networks, unsure of whether the government would let them compete in the free market.
Today, we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the Internet. We propose to return to the Clinton-era light-touch framework that has proven to be successful. And we propose to put technologists and engineers, rather than lawyers and accountants, at the center of the online world.
Clyburn, however, had quite a different take on the issue:
While the majority engages in flowery rhetoric about light-touch regulation and so on, the endgame appears to be no-touch regulation and a wholescale destruction of the FCC’s public interest authority in the 21st century.
Undermining the ability of poor people to get broadband, knee-capping funding for rural telecommunications, declining to review an $85 billion transaction with massive public interest implications, encouraging consolidation and higher prices in business broadband, and enabling massive broadcasting conglomerates to gobble up more local voices. Each action, is a cut against the public interest, and the majority will keep it coming unless Americans stand up, make their voices heard and 5 challenge the FCC in court, because it is glaringly obvious, with each open meeting, that the willingness and the ability of the majority to protect consumers and competition in a broadband era, has come to a screeching halt.
Advocacy groups such as the Internet Association are siding with Clyburn and the majority of Democrats.
Internet Association president and CEO Michael Beckerman said, despite the assertions of Republicans, Net neutrality “rules are working.”
According to the association’s research, “ISP investment is up over time, and shows no decline as a result of Title II reclassification in 2015. By multiple, independent metrics, ISP claims of depressed investment don’t mesh with reality. From actual capital expenditure numbers, to patents, to prices, Title II has not had the effects that ISPs claim.”
The Internet Association and other advocacy groups have said they will use the open comment period before the FCC’s final vote to speak out against the dismantling of Net neutrality.