FCC Boss Wants 'Voluntary' ISP Net Neutrality Promises Instead Of Real Rules

from the Comcast-pinky-swear dept

Surprising nobody, FCC boss Ajit Pai has been privately meeting with large broadband providers, informing them he’ll be taking an axe to net neutrality protections soon. What exactly this will look like isn’t yet clear, especially given the massive support for the rules, and the fact that Pai can’t just roll back net neutrality (and the FCC’s Title II reclassification) without justifying it to the courts. But anonymous sources tell Reuters that Pai seemingly wants to replace real net neutrality protections with voluntary commitments from companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast:

Pai wants to overturn that reclassification, but wants internet providers to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to web content, two officials said late Tuesday.

The officials briefed on the meeting said Pai suggested companies commit in writing to open internet principles and including them in their terms of service, which would make them binding.

It is unclear if regulators could legally compel internet providers to adopt open internet principles without existing net neutrality rules.

Asking growing, giant corporations with a generation of documented anti-competitive behavior under their belts to just behave is utterly adorable, and anyone who believes that’s a winning strategy for consumers, startups and competitors in the Comcast era is either obtuse or being intentionally misleading.

Contrary to the bedtime stories that dollar-per-hollar ISP think tankers, lobbyists and consultants tell their children, gutting regulatory oversight of an uncompetitive market doesn’t magically forge telecom Utopia. With neither competition nor functional regulatory oversight, the problems that plague the broadband industry (privacy violations, net neutrality infractions, high prices and usage caps, legendarily-bad customer service) only get worse, especially given the often absurd amount of telecom regulatory capture occurring on the state level.

And while Reuters is quick to strangely proclaim that such voluntary conditions would be “binding,” most of us realize that the overlong privacy policies you sign when you buy broadband are designed almost entirely to legally protect the ISP, not you. These policies are flexibly and frequently updated and reconfigured all of the damn time to the benefit of the ISP and whatever new data collection effort they’re up to this week. That these shifting, vague, ISP-written policies are the equivalent of the existing rules is a farce, as rightly pointed out by Nilay Patel over at The Verge:

“So what?s to stop Comcast from making this deal today, and then changing its terms a year from now? (It?s certainly not the presence of meaningful access competition in the marketplace!) How will the FTC track every single ISP?s terms of service language, the differences between them, and enforce any sort of consistent, reasonable policy?

Second, let?s say Pai manages to thread the needle and gets every ISP in the country to agree on the exact same open internet language in their terms of service, and further secures a commitment that the language will remain in their terms in perpetuity. Isn?t that functionally identical to… a law? Shouldn?t we just have… a law? And don?t we already have that law? What specifically is Pai trying to accomplish if he agrees that open internet principles are important?”

Let’s be clear: Ajit Pai doesn’t actually believe that net neutrality is important, whether that’s manifest in principles, rules, or show tune. Pai doesn’t believe net neutrality or a lack of competition are real problems. Nor does he believe in functional regulatory oversight of some of the largest and most anti-competitive companies in American industry. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, believes in one thing: maximizing large ISP revenues at nearly any cost. Everything else is pretense (albeit a pretense many in the public, media and policy circles are exceptionally good at playing along with).

Pai, apparently blind to the perils of political overreach, could find himself in an untenable situation. One, reversing net neutrality will cause a policy and activist backlash that could make the SOPA uprising look like a game of grade-school patty cake. Especially given the extreme unpopularity of the recent privacy rule repeal. Two, to reverse the FCC’s title II classification via FCC proceeding requires he show a court that things have changed substantially since last year’s fairly overwhelming FCC appeals court victory. Since he won’t be able to, expect some form of misdirection when the plan is finally revealed in either May or June.

It still seems very likely Pai may be planning to make a public stink about repealing the rules as part of a stage play. One where the FCC boss intentionally stirs the pot and plays the bad cop, and ISP-allies in Congress push a new bill pretending to save net neutrality as good cop via “compromise.” And while such a bill would, like Thune’s similar proposal in 2015, pay ample lip service to net neutrality (the Make American Broadband Great Again Act of 2017?), the end goal would still be to kill real rules and reduce large ISP regulatory oversight, consumer welfare and internet health be damned.

Anybody who has spent more than five minutes dealing with a large ISP should be well aware of the dangers this looming farce presents. On the plus side, since ISPs and Pai have repeatedly claimed that the net neutrality rules stifled broadband investment, Pai’s decision to replace the rules with the policy equivalent of wet cardboard should at least net us all gigabit fiber connections in short order. Right? Right?

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Comments on “FCC Boss Wants 'Voluntary' ISP Net Neutrality Promises Instead Of Real Rules”

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22 Comments
discordian_eris (profile) says:

“Pai doesn’t believe net neutrality or a lack of competition are real problems. Nor does he believe in functional regulatory oversight of some of the largest and most anti-competitive companies in American industry.”

Bullshit. He PROFESSES not to believe. Because that is exactly what he is paid to profess. Like so many others in government, his payoff will come when he leaves the FCC and rejoins his buds in the private sector. Saying he believes anything, anything at all, is truly farcical.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Whom do U trust

Hmmm — you don’t trust Pai (FCC) and you don’t trust the ISP’s.

Whom exactly do you trust in all this ?

Pai is the government — an official bona fide “government regulator”.
Did it ever occur to you that it might be a bad idea to trust the government to oversee the Internet ?

You may think Pai/FCC currently has no power to regulate the internet and internet content — but the FCC quietly granted itself that power in 2015… when it classified Internet Service Providers as “common carriers”, supposedly “only” to enforce ‘net neutrality’. That ISP “common carrier” designation is a very big deal legally, vastly increasing FCC internet regulatory authority — a very bad idea. Net Neutrality is fine; FCC regulation not fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Whom do U trust

The FCC did Nn grant itself the power to regulate content, as an ISP service does not provide content. All they were trying to do was to prevent the ISP’s from deciding what content their users could get access to. Just because many ISP’s are also content via their cable service is the root cause of them trying to control access to Internet content, and what they want to do is to force users to subscribe to their cablse services, rather than subscribing to the different content provided by Netflix.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Whom do U trust

No, FCC now has the authority to tell ISP’s what content they may/may-not ‘transmit’ from ISP servers. Original source of the content does not change that new regulatory authority.

That the FCC has not yet exercised that new authority should not comfort you. Pai or a future-Pai might have many ideas on what is unacceptable internet content.
The FCC has a long sordid history of censoring radio/TV content, the regulatory temptation is very strong.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Whom do U trust

FCC takes a very broad view of its general authority:

‘Cell-phone voice calls will continue to be banned during commercial airline flights, under an FCC order by FCC (Ajit Pai) proposed today to stop any further FCC consideration of lifting the current ban.’

Why is FCC interfering with private airline/passenger choices to use cell phones inflight? There are no safety or technical issues involved– it is purely a social issue of passengers possibly annoying other passengers with voice calls. Absolutely none of the FCC’s business — but FCC feels free to interfere officially.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Yeah, right

More like “Ajit Pai to fox: I’ve already killed and roasted all the chicken, have nice meals.”

But Pai is just one of the examples. Banks already got their roasted chicken meals and there are more coming. Auto makers, fossil fuel industry, health care insurance etc. I’m sure the US will survive Trump but healing from the idiot will take decades.

TKnarr (profile) says:

My response to Pai would be one of my standard ones: “If they’re willing to promise that and intend to honor that promise, then having the terms of the promise written down as binding regulations shouldn’t be any additional problem for them, right? After all, the regulations are just what they’re going to do anyway, there shouldn’t be any additional burden on them.”

It comes from a standard statement when negotiating contracts: “If you intend to do that anyway you won’t mind putting it in writing, right?”

Anonymous Coward says:

not sure which is the bigger farce, the dealing with an ISP or everything that Pai does. let’s face it, he’s a total ass hole and does exactly what the ISPs tell him! he isn’t and never has been interested in anything other than what makes him better off and that includes screwing the ordinary people and the poor as much as possible, just to get personal rewards. the man wants sacking asap!!

Anonymous Coward says:

I volunteer to obey most of the traffic laws except...

Imagine is this applied to all of us and driving.
Some people would follow the traffic lights and speed limits, others would do their own thing and drive any old way they wanted while inflicting harm on others.

This is another government (ex-Verizon Lawyer running the FCC) “Do as I say, not as I do” ruling that only lazy parents would utilize without expressing reasons for why or why not, how it effects them and others, et.

David (profile) says:

Once a Verizon lawyer

Always in their pocket.

The odd (and I mean **fucking odd**) idea that they will write with their pinky fingers crossed that the major ISPs will be ever so nice to their customers is … well, let’s just say that Disney has more believable story lines involving animated characters.

Similar to puppets now that I think about it.

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