FCC Boss Unveils Ingenious Plan To Replace Net Neutrality Rules With Fluff & Nonsense

from the throttled,-blocked,-hamstrung-and-hindered dept

FCC boss Ajit Pai has made no secret of his disdain for net neutrality. Or, for that matter, his general disregard for the consumer-protection authority granted the agency he's supposed to be in charge of. Pai had already stated that his "solution" -- to his perceived injustice that is net neutrality -- is to replace the government's existing, hard net neutrality rules with "voluntary commitments" by the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon. From there, he hopes to leave any remaining regulatory enforcement to the under-funded and over-extended FTC (we've explained why this is a notably bad idea here).

Pai clarified his plans a little during a speech today in Washington, DC at an event hosted by FreedomWorks (which, not coincidentally, takes funding from the giant ISPs Pai is clearly eager to help). According to Pai, the FCC will issue a Notice of Proposed Rule Making tomorrow to begin the process of rolling back Title II and killing net neutrality. The FCC will then vote on the proposal on May 18, according to the agency head. That means there will be a full public comment period (that's where you come in) ahead of a broader vote to kill the rules later this year.

Pai's full speech (pdf) was packed with conflations, half-truths, and statements that have been repeatedly, painstakingly debunked over the course of the last decade. Among them being the ongoing claim that net neutrality rules weren't necessary -- because incumbent ISPs had done nothing wrong:

"Nothing about the Internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed. And there wasn’t a rash of Internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications, or services of their choice.

Pai apparently "forgot" the time that AT&T intentionally blocked iPhone users from using FaceTime unless they signed up for significantly more expensive mobile data plans. Or that time MetroPCS blocked all access to video on its introductory plans to drive users to costlier plans if they wanted the "full internet experience." Or that time a small ISP named Madison River decided to block a competing VoIP provider. Or that time AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile blocked their users from using Google Wallet to help prop up their own mobile payment services. Or the longstanding allegations that Comcast, Verizon, AT&T and others intentionally let their peering points get congested to kill settlement-free peering and force content and transit providers to pay an additional toll.

The idea that net neutrality rules are arbitrary and unnecessary is a joke, and if you still don't believe consumers and startups need some kind of regulatory protection from giant (and ever-growing) broadband duopolists like Comcast, the joke's on you. And it's notably unfunny.

Pai, like most of the ISP allies in favor of gutting the rules, simply refuses to be proven wrong -- no matter what the actual data shows. For years now, Pai has cited broadband industry-funded studies that try to claim that net neutrality rules severely hampered broadband investment, despite zero objective evidence that's actually the case. But this being the post-truth era, Pai was quick to trot out the "Title II and neutrality killed investment" canard to the immense joy of the crowd of attending lobbyists, think tankers and other loyal ISP allies:

"So what happened after the Commission adopted Title II? Sure enough, infrastructure investment declined. Among our nation’s 12 largest Internet service providers, domestic broadband capital expenditures decreased by 5.6% percent, or $3.6 billion, between 2014 and 2016, the first two years of the Title II era. This decline is extremely unusual. It is the first time that such investment has declined outside of a recession in the Internet era."

It never happened. What did happen: some telecom industry-funded think tanks cherry picked data to make it appear that investment had foundered, then repeated the fabrication they'd created, apparently believing that repetition forges truth. But if you spoke privately to most ISPs, they'd be telling you they saw no investment reduction under Title II. ISPs don't oppose net neutrality and Title II because it makes investing harder; they oppose Title II and net neutrality because it prevents them from abusing the uncompetitive shitshow that is the broadband last mile.

What's abundantly clear here is that net neutrality opponents have zero problem with lying to achieve one, singular goal: maximizing the income of large broadband providers to the detriment of consumers, competition, startups and the health of the internet. And Pai poured it on exceptionally thick during his speech at FreedomWorks, claiming that gutting oversight of some of the most anti-competitive and least liked companies in America will somehow magically improve broadband competition, create jobs, expand internet access, and more:

"Without the overhang of heavy-handed regulation, companies will spend more building next-generation networks. As those networks expand, many more Americans, especially low-income rural and urban Americans, will get high-speed Internet access for the first time. And more Americans generally will benefit from faster and better broadband.

Second, it will create jobs. More Americans will go to work building these networks. These are good-paying jobs, laying fiber, digging trenches, and connecting equipment to utility poles. And established businesses and startup entrepreneurs alike will take advantage of the networks that they build to create even more jobs.

Doesn't that sound lovely? Except it's not happening. If the claim that Title II and net neutrality stifled investment was bullshit, the narrative that removing these regulations magically creates jobs and competition is just as fantastical. If anything, turning a blind eye to duopolists like Comcast and Verizon as they abuse the lack of broadband competition to make life harder on streaming competitors (something they're already doing) will have the opposite impact on existing and emerging internet markets to come. And if protecting ISP revenues is the top priority (and let's not fool ourselves that it isn't), actually fixing the industry's competitive shortcomings will never be on Pai's radar.

The problem Pai faces now is two-fold. One, net neutrality has broad, incredible bi-partisan support, and those consumers are certain to give him an earful during the public comment period that will begin after the May 18 vote. If Pai isn't familiar with the concept of backlash and overreach, he may want to bone up on some history. Pai will also need to show to the courts that the market has changed dramatically enough since the FCC's June 2016 win over ISPs to justify a massive reversal of the rules. If he can't, his entire effort will be struck down.

As a lawyer Pai knows this, which is why I still think Pai's playing a game of good cop, bad cop. Under this plan, Pai saber rattles for a few months about his intent to kill net neutrality, at which point the GOP shows up with some "compromise" legislation (likely this summer) that claims to codify net neutrality into law, but is worded in such a way (by the ISP lawyers that will inevitably write it) so the loophole-riddled "solution" is worse than no rules at all. If I were to guess, the legislation will come from Senator John Thune, who attempted to derail the 2015 net neutrality rules using a similar strategy.

It seems likely that neutrality opponent hubris could easily backfire. After all, every time ISPs have tried to kill net neutrality, the end result has been more stringent protections (as we saw when Verizon sued to overturn the FCC's flimsy 2010 rules, only to get... tougher rules). That said, this fight still may be harder than previous battles. With Google and Netflix likely to be less active (they're large enough now that they apparently think they no longer need to worry), the onus is going to be on grassroots activists, debate-fatigued consumers and startups to carry the brunt of the load this time around.

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Filed Under: ajit pai, competition, fcc, net neutrality, oversight, regulations

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 2:41pm

    Big money will ensure Scotus upholds this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    William Braunfeld (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 3:03pm

    Okay, I would like to head this off at the pass.
    To our dear AC who likes to rant in these threads that we should dismantle the FCC because the regulations are abused by companies and lobbyists:
    What's the second step? What do we replace it with?
    Answer A: Nothing. At which point, the incumbents have free reign to do every anti-competitive, anti-consumer thing their hearts could desire. There would be no room for new competitors to grow; that ship has *sailed*, they have the power to stop them already.
    Answer B: A brand new regulatory body. Alright... paid how? Run by whom? Wih what portfolio? If you destroy the FCC only to replace it with the FCC II, what is to stop them from having these exact same problems? Perhaps even worse if the incumbents get to lobby for baked-in restrictions at the outset!
    Answer C: That's the job of our elected representitives to figure out.
    They did.
    Their answer was *the FCC.*

    We need to focus on changing the system, not ripping it out and throwing it away because FCC BAD.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 3:30pm

    Second, it will create jobs. More Americans will go to work building these networks. These are good-paying jobs, laying fiber, digging trenches, and connecting equipment to utility poles. And established businesses and startup entrepreneurs alike will take advantage of the networks that they build to create even more jobs.

    This is absolutely true, but not in the way he hopes it will be. It's true in the MASSIVE opportunities created for competition in the broadband last mile segment. It's true in places that have passed One-Touch-Make-Ready legislation like Louisville, KY, where Google has only today announced that they WILL be building a fiber network. When Title II and net neutrality dies, that will be all the competitive advantage Google needs to put the smack down on the legacy broadband mono/duopolies. What a Pyrrhic victory the death of Title II and net neutrality will be for them. I think I'll pop some popcorn and watch the show!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    jgoi, 26 Apr 2017 @ 5:33pm

    Should I just bend over a barrel and raise my ass now? Slower internet, blocked sites, no privacy protections and asinine levels of ads are our future because the republicans always succeed by denying the facts said by the people. They won't care if everyone in america complains about pai's f'd up plan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 7:01pm

    Ajit Pai. Champion of the minorities (AT&T,Verizon, Comcast, T-mobile) against the bullying millions of American citizens out there. Hey, companies are people too, and there's only a few of them versus the millions of you out there. Obviously it's the minorities that need to be protected.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 7:49pm

    People are going to come up with all sorts of conspiracy theories over this, but the fact is this is an issue that matters to many, many people who work at these companies, and the companies have committed to speaking out about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Apr 2017 @ 7:52pm

    Just a job interview

    As Pai prepares for his lucrative post-FCC career as a highly-paid lobbyist. Sorry, nothing new here. Just another gutter-dweller.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 26 Apr 2017 @ 9:44pm

    DEAR PAI..

    Do you know that many states have Laws about certain JOB LISTINGS..
    You have to be registered for:
    Hair stylist
    athletic trainer
    emergency medical technician (EMT)
    interior designers
    (ALL jobs require MORE exp, then the training to be an EMT)

    https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2015/01/27/nearly-30-percent-of-workers-in-the-u-s-need- a-license-to-perform-their-job-it-is-time-to-examine-occupational-licensing-practices/

    30% of jobs need to be STATE registered.

    WHY? There are reasons..
    SUCH AS, making sure you KNOW WHAT YOU ARE DOING and not Burning off EVERY HAIR on a persons head..
    TO PROVE you can WIRE a house, and IF' you do it WRONG, WE CAN FIND YOU..

    ITS ALSO, there so that IF' you are hired to DO A JOB..YOU DO IT PROPERLY.. AND with Standards..
    AND you cant LIE in your adverts..

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 27 Apr 2017 @ 6:32am

    FCC boss does something incredibly harmful to consumers but awesome to his paying bosses (not the citizens, the corporations, they pay more). In another news water is wet, the sun is hot and money buys almost anything.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 27 Apr 2017 @ 11:15am

    Net neutrality has been blocking investments!

    With net neutrality gone, the networks are free to make a goodwill auction for the existing bandwidth: everybody can throw his money into the ring in order to get alloted more from the available bandwidth until somebody else pays more to get it. Musical chairs, and the music is the ringing of cash registers.

    Nobody needs fiber when they have a chance of getting all the DSL by investing more in the Telcom CEO's bonuses, taking turns. Investment, investment, investment!

    Currently the U.S. ranks among the worst connected First World countries. Ajit will turn the U.S. into a class of its own.

    That way the NSA can snoop through all the U.S. citizens' traffic without having to invest all too much more in connection, processing, and storage capacity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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