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FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public, Votes To Begin Dismantling Net Neutrality

from the ignoring-the-will-of-the-people dept

Surprising absolutely nobody, the FCC today voted 2-1 along strict party lines to begin dismantling net neutrality protections for consumers. The move comes despite the fact that the vast majority of non-bot comments filed with the FCC support keeping the rules intact. And while FCC boss Ajit Pai has breathlessly insisted he intended to listen to the concerns of all parties involved, there has been zero indication that this was a serious commitment as he begins dismantling all manner of broadband consumer protections, not just net neutrality.

As you might have expected, the FCC was quick to release a statement claiming that gutting the popular consumer protections would usher forth a magical age of connectivity, investment, and innovation:

“In a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, the FCC proposes to return to the bipartisan framework that preserved a flourishing free and open Internet for almost 20 years. First, the Notice proposes to reverse the FCC?s 2015 decision to impose heavy-handed Title II utility-style government regulation on Internet service providers (ISPs) and return to the longstanding, successful light-touch framework under Title I of the Communications Act.”

Except as we just got done noting, the FCC’s net neutrality rules already were ‘light touch.” The rules were relatively basic, the FCC has consistently shown zero interest in rate regulations, the rules didn’t really cover zero rating, and numerous ISP executives have candidly and clearly stated the rules didn’t harm them in the slightest. As we’ve also noted, the plan to shift ISPs back to Title I and an over-extended FTC is a plan that ends with less accountability and oversight of some of the least competitive companies in American industry as they move to grow even larger via media megamergers.

Anybody that believes consumers, competitors or the health of the internet benefits from giving Comcast additional leeway to abuse the lack of last-mile broadband competition is either intentionally trying to mislead you, or simply hasn’t been paying attention.

What happens next? Again, net neutrality isn’t technically dead yet. There will be another vote later this year, followed by inevitable lawsuits — which supporters have a good chance of winning. Today, with the formal introduction of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) the FCC should soon re-open the agency’s comment system, allowing you to share your thoughts on the killing of net neutrality. And while you might be inclined to think that your thoughts on this policy decision don’t matter, these comments will come in handy in the inevitable looming legal fight to come.

You see, when Pai is inevitably sued by competitors and consumer advocates, he’ll need to convince the courts that things have changed dramatically enough since the FCC’s appeals court victory last year to warrant such a severe reversal in agency policy (they haven’t). And these public comments, which again show massive public support for the rules, only make that job that much harder for Pai to claim the move was in the public’s best interest.

As a former Verizon lawyer Pai knows this, and is launching an NPRM attack on the rules in partial hope that things never get that far. We’ve noted how ISPs (and all the politicians, think tankers, policy wonks and “consultants” paid to love them) are pushing for a new Congressional law on net neutrality. The sales pitch for this law is that it will “put the net neutrality debate to rest” as a “compromise.” The reality you’re supposed to ignore is that AT&T, Verizon, Comcast and Charter lawyers will be the ones writing it, ensuring that the loophole-packed legislative “solution” is likely worse than having no net neutrality rules at all.

The short version? The battle for a healthy, open internet is far from over. And there will, sooner or later, be notable repercussions for any regulator and politician that thought ignoring the public interest on this subject was a good idea.

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Comments on “FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public, Votes To Begin Dismantling Net Neutrality”

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87 Comments
TechDescartes (profile) says:

Cut Pai some slack

He’s been doing nothing but reading thousands of public comments for the past several days. No sleeping, no eating. Just reading. And reading. And reading. And after carefully considering each and every comment, only then did he make his decision.

Oh, sorry. That was the public, reading the comments, sorting the bot chaff from the wheat, and concluding that most people liked the rules. My mistake.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

no, I am pointing at you idiots for supporting the very things that cause what you are trying to avoid.

It’s sad you did not see this coming, I saw this coming before even Trump got here, but everyone laughed at me when I warned them that this was coming. Well keep laughing, because that totally worked, right?

A fool and their liberty are soon parted, well shortly after their money! I hope you enjoy Ajit Pai, you asked for him!

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

But that’s the essence of your argument: Pai couldn’t deregulate if the regulations we support didn’t exist in the first place.

It’s the only reasonable interpretation of your “this is what regulation does” claim, considering that “this” refers to Pai’s moves to deregulate.

Perhaps if you add some more insults, you’ll be taken more seriously. (But don’t count on it.)

Wendy Cockcroft (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

If ALL regulation is bad, even self-regulation via market forces is bad, am I right?

But the market is rigged in favour of telco monopolies who write the laws that favour them. Removing all laws pertaining to their operations won’t result in a healthy internet ecosystem because the corporations effectively ARE the law and they’re not going to work in our best interests.

The public isn’t going to force them to compete, they need to be broken up.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

So then are you arguing that we should’ve just skipped the regulations in the first place, and then we wouldn’t even be having this discussion?

Like it would’ve saved a lot of time and energy to just have what we had before regulations?

Yeah, you’re such a visionary.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

I believe your type has been warned many times before, that if you keep calling things by the wrong name, then people stop paying attention to you when get get tired of you acting like

Something does not stop existing just because you refuse to accept it. Many others have offered alternatives, you just keep rejecting them.

But as they say… ignorance IS bliss!

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

Might solve a mystery
Or rewrite history
DuckTales! Woo-oo!
Every day they’re out there making
DuckTales! Woo-oo!
Tales of derring-do, bad and good
Luck tales! Woo-oo!

D-d-d-danger lurks behind you
There’s a stranger out to find you
What to do? Just grab onto some
DuckTales! Woo-oo!
Every day they’re out there making
DuckTales! Woo-oo!
Tales of derring-do, bad and good
Luck tales! Woo-oo!
Not ponytails or cottontails
No, DuckTales! Woo-oo!

In conclusion, DuckTales; woo-oo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public,

So more regulation means no public seat but doesn’t deregulation ALSO remove the public’s seat since it ensures only the powerful and rich can play?

If anything, regulation actually GIVES the public a seat which is why we have the FCC comment filing period in the first place. TO GIVE THE PUBLIC A PLACE TO PROVIDE FEEDBACK.

But don’t take my word for it, just look at the reports by ISPs stating that the 2015 Open Internet Order didn’t harm investment or anything as it wasn’t particularly onerous.

It was the definition of “light-touch” and I’d argue didn’t go far enough to combat anti-competitive practices like data caps and zero rating.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Pity people lack the will to remind him he is supposed to represent the people and not his corporate donors.
It would be nice to see voters in his district reminding him they submitted comments saying don’t do this & he ignored them to put corporate profits over public good. We’ll vote you out now, so arrange that cushy job lobbying for the cartels.

Jinxed (profile) says:

*And while you might be inclined to think that your thoughts on this policy decision don’t matter, these comments will come in handy in the inevitable looming legal fight to come.*

No, they won’t. Just as I said over two years ago, I’ll say it again here: Votes won’t matter because the fight isn’t in the correct arena.

While it was entertaining to see Title II pass, the only people upset by today’s news are those who thought they had won.

Here’s a tip: instead of running to the government, isn’t it about time to grow up and take the fight directly to the ISPs?

Too bad it’s a running joke now, the boycott.

Alas, it’s like watching people fight against DRM while giving the very entities responsible for it concurrent record-breaking years.

JoeCool (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yes, boycott… that’ll work! I’ll just run down to the local Net Cafe or the Library anytime I need to check my bank account, or pay my bills, or do my job…

The reason the ISPs are so bad is they have you over a barrel and there’s nothing you can do about it other than complain to the FCC… or your Congress-Critter… both of whom now work for the big ISPs.
🙁

Jinxed (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

The reason the ISPs are so bad is they have you over a barrel and there’s nothing you can do about it other than complain to the FCC…

Bullshit.

You get people together and pick a day, say the day the FCC is set to make another vote, and declare this day that "If the FCC passes to dismantle Title II, we, the public, refuse to pay our ISP bills until the change is reverted."

To get this to work, everyone needs to follow up with it.

Businesses. People. The local Net Cafe. The Library.

E.V.E.R.Y.O.N.E.

If ISPs are combining their resources to attack the public, fight fire with fire.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: "I'll do it, just watch me!"

Which would be about as effective as a child telling it’s parents "If you don’t give me what I want I’ll hold my breath until you do!".

Much like the parents in that example the ISP’s are quite capable of dealing with a temporary blip in profits much easier than businesses can do without any transactions that involve the internet, people that use the internet to work are able to do without engaging in any work that isn’t able to be done entirely offline and so on.

Boycotting the ISP’s differs significantly from boycotting say a bus service in that unlike the ISP’s someone boycotting a particular business or service in other fields has alternatives.

Refuse to use the public transit system? No a problem, you can walk, bike, set up ride-sharing, there are multiple ways you can still travel without using public transit. On the other hand, boycotting an ISP is, for many, boycotting the internet, and in a large number of cases there is no alternative. They either get their internet from the ISP you’re telling them to boycott or they don’t get internet.

As pointed out by JoeCool, that’s the problem. Boycotting isn’t going to work in this case because it’s not simply a matter of doing without one thing, the internet has become so interwoven and necessary for so many things that a boycott would require doing without for all of that, and that’s simply not not feasible for many, which the ISP’s know.

There are other alternatives, increase competition being the chief one(which is why the current ISP’s fight so hard to kill it before it can sprout), but ‘boycott’ simple isn’t one of them, for a multitude of reasons.

(If you still want to claim that it’s quite possible to do, then here’s your chance to demonstrate the strength of your convictions. Do without the internet entirely for at least a week. Don’t use it personally, don’t do business with any shop or store that uses it, if your job requires an internet connection refuse to engage in any work that requires any online use… Do without it in every conceivable way for a week, and then come back and tell us how that worked out for you.)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "I'll do it, just watch me!"

May I add two points.

1) Boycotting an ISP in many cases also means giving up cable TV. Dropping an Internet subscription while maintaining a cable subscription is the outcome that many ISPs want, and the reason Net Neutrality has become an issue is that people are dropping cable in favor of the Internet for their video entertainment.
2) The people and companies that would suffer most from an effective boycott are those small players that make the Internet such a useful and Interesting place.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

To get this to work, everyone needs to follow up with it.

Yes, everyone. For example, the hospitals whose monitoring systems and on-call emergency personnel operate over those networks. The pharmacy, which receives information on patient prescriptions over those networks. 911 Emergency services, which receive calls for help over those networks. The national poison control/suicide prevention/every other similar hotline which operate over those networks. The electrical utilities who use those networks to organize and distribute power generation resources. etc. etc.

To put it simply, cutting off the phone lines for one month would do far more damage to everyone else than to the cable companies.

kallethen says:

You see, when Pai is inevitably sued by competitors and consumer advocates, he’ll need to convince the courts that things have changed dramatically enough since the FCC’s appeals court victory last year to warrant such a severe reversal in agency policy (they haven’t). And these public comments, which again show massive public support for the rules, only make that job that much harder for Pai to claim the move was in the public’s best interest.
I’ll admit, before reading this article you could count me as one of those who felt that it’d be a waste to submit comments to the FCC. Pai will do whatever he wants and ignore the overwhelming demand to keep net neutrality rules. But this paragraph here at least gives me some hope there is a small chance to save things.

Tk says:

What will of the people? Even assuming each comment is a different person, that is what, a few million out of ~350 million in the US? And this is not an election where all elligible people are at least on notice they can vote.

If you did not already feel strongly about.this or watch John Oliver, who would actually know to comment?

The FCC may very well be ignoring the raw majority of commentors, but that is in no way the same as the will of “the people”. In as I say that, I dont believe the people have a will on this, because the vast majority is ignorant of the issue.

David says:

Re: Re: Re:

61% polled — again, in a poll funded by the industry — favored net neutrality. Don’t Know/No Opinion was 21%.

They need to call it "Obamanet" then. In polls among Obamacare protestors, a fair number of participants polled quite favorable to the "Affordable Healthcare Act".

But then satire fails to keep up with reality: I already saw net neutrality "explained" as "think of it as Obamacare for the Internet", a rather astounding misuse of the word "think".

Anonymous Coward says:

The ISP's should hurt!

People are so focused on the big ISP’s not hurting… The only way to go forward IS to hurt them. Each of them has such a tight grip on the internet infrastructure, and the people who rely on it, that they can do whatever they want.
Kill every competitor they want, make laws, buy politicians and be dickheads… and they do it right in peoples faces… they are that powerful.
The only way to get things going in the right direction is to hurt them and with that hurt broadband investment, at least in the beginning. When the environment is suitable, competition will show up and it is then, and only then, that true innovation and progress will happen.
They have to bleed and hurt until they actually feel threatened before they actually start valuing what they have.
All this talk of sparing the “poor”, “defenseless”, multi-hundred-billion-in-profits-by-stomping-on-their-customers ISP’s of any losses is not conducive to anything else than them becoming more powerful and worse for the country.

Anonymous Coward says:

You see, when Pai is inevitably sued by competitors and consumer advocates, he’ll need to convince the courts that things have changed dramatically enough since the FCC’s appeals court victory last year to warrant such a severe reversal in agency policy

Is this actually a thing? I’ve never heard of any kind of limit on the ability of government agencies to reverse past decisions.

TKnarr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It happened a lot in the last 4 years. Every time the FCC tried to impose a regulation, the ISPs sued arguing that the new rules were arbitrary and lacked any basis justifying them. Even when the basis ought to have been self-evident to anyone with a working brain, the FCC had to spend time writing it all up in detail to show why the rules weren’t arbitrary and what basis they had for deciding on those rules.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Is this actually a thing? I’ve never heard of any kind of limit on the ability of government agencies to reverse past decisions.

Yes, it’s very much a thing. The Administrative Procedures Act, which controls how government agencies make regulations says that you cannot make willy nilly changes:

https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/706

Specifically, the FCC (and other agencies) have run into trouble in the past for changing regulations in a manner considered to be "arbitrary and capricious." So, for the FCC to change the rules here they have to show a clear, supportable reason that things have changed since the previous rules were put in place 2 years ago. That’s… going to be difficult.

Anonymous Coward says:

FCC ignores the will of the public

As a former Verizon customer care agent, IT and escalations supervisor. And working a second job that later turned to my only job went from L1,2 and 3 tech support agent, Floor manager, Network Administrator/Engineer and now IT security professional. I’ve worked behind the scenes for over 20 years for ISPS and have known most of our countries(the USA) communications carriers business models and practices.Ending Verizon work about when the Motorola razor was famous (2006 ish). I know that Verizon is a greedy company that has bathed themselves in overage fee’s with minute and data caps that I’ve seen bills in THOUSANDS of dollars. With the ISPS I worked for over 13 businesses, starting from the beginning when they all started as DIAL UP on to today’s modern internet tier bandwidths. I have always been against doing away with net neutrality when it was in peril and is a main reason why I left the outsourcer ISP that I worked for because I didn’t want to be working for corrupt business like Verizon that capped and throttled Internet(which many of them were doing). It’s not a matter of opinion. It’s a FACT that all major communications carriers(Time Warner,AT&T,Verizon,Comcast etc) have abused the internet for financial gain. I was there when the FCC was hanging on a thread to be able to do anything about it in legal battles. All the while the COMS companies were capping internet and throttling service getting away with charging overages perverting their business models and filling their greedy pockets. I was there during the decade of legal crap the FCC went through just to classify net neutrality as Title II making a fair and open internet possible again. And now, it’s going to be done away with due to Ajit Pai the SCUM BAG! Yea Ajit Pai is a SCUM BAG! DOUCHE BAG POS! He’s the new boss who’s a dumb ass and comes along like so many others do with businesses that new hire a manager and they decide to screw up what doesn’t need to be fixed. He’s that much of a SCUM BAG and POS! And I think that saying that he’s the most hated man on the internet is an understatement.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Don't be silly, why would we ever listen to them?

The move comes despite the fact that the vast majority of non-bot comments filed with the FCC support keeping the rules intact. And while FCC boss Ajit Pai has breathlessly insisted he intended to listen to the concerns of all parties involved, there has been zero indication that this was a serious commitment as he begins dismantling all manner of broadband consumer protections, not just net neutrality.

Which might be true, in a technical sense. ‘Listen to’ doesn’t mean ‘care about’ or ‘consider the merits of’ after all. I could ‘listen to’ some lunatic flat-earther or KKK member, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to seriously pay attention to or even care what they say.

At this point I’d say it’s pretty clear that Pai holds a near overwhelming contempt(or at the very least indifference) for what the public wants or thinks, so of course he’s going to ignore anything that conflicts with what he has already decided on. He’s scum, nothing more than a tool for those he’s supposed to be keeping in check, and while there’s no surprise there I just wish he was honest enough to own up to it.

"We decided not to bother with the public comment period because frankly I don’t give a damn what any of you could possibly say. As such we’re just going to take a few days to relax and then I’ll graciously tell you what I’ve already decided on."

Anonymous Coward says:

Let's Say Killing Net Neutrality DOES Foster Industry Growth

And it won’t, is absolutely won’t. If it does though, can I get a video of Mike Masnick eating a 6-foot LAN cable? I just want to be able to enjoy something slightly entertaining when streaming sites just throttled to a snail’s pace.

Ed (profile) says:

This is a tech fight, use tech not words

The only way to hurt ISPs is to use tech to bypass them. That is, stop using an entrenched ISP to access the internet and go to a different technology.

That is how Uber upset the taxi cartels, and how AirBnb upset the Hotel industry.

Of course ISPs know this and are very frightened of it. That is why municipal broadband is so difficult to implement. Perhaps satellite internet is becoming a viable means of bypassing your ISP. Watch for laws banning unsightly dishes on rooftops.

Anonymous Coward says:

You sound shocked this would happen

FCC Ignores The Will Of The Public

Hm hum. And you sound so shocked and indignant about it. I’m not sure why. The Comcast’s, AT&T’s, and Verizon’s are all "your pipes belong to us now" and want to be paid at least three times for the same service.

Once by the subscriber for consuming bandwidth they’ve already paid for.
Twice by the other end of that connection.
Thrice by government subsidy.

I had a co-worker from Estonia stay with me for a few months. She was shocked at how much we pay for crappy internet, and how many times over we pay for it.

News flash – monopoly’s that are unregulated gouge the consumer. We all know this.

As I see it, the only solution is to stop paying the monopoly interest for three months. That is long enough to ensure they collapse by cutting off the blood supply to the cancer they have become.

Kronomex (profile) says:

Public? What public? You mean the little people who are there the bled dry by Comcast and Verizon and their ilk who can throw millions of dollars, via their lobbyists, at politicians? If the little people could throw millions of dollars at the same politicians then they would listen and, maybe, do something about the AT&T’s and others. The pig trough of “donations” speaks much louder than the peons.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Re:

Net Neutrality was born partisan

No it wasn’t. If you look back ten or fifteen years to when the debate started, it had pretty broad bipartisan support. I even knew free-market libertarians who are generally opposed to regulation who supported net neutrality (since they acknowledged, like all sane people, that there is no free-market competition among ISPs).

It became a partisan issue once Obama declared he supported it, because if Obama supported it, Republicans opposed it, regardless of their previous stance. (See also: Romneycare.)

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