Broadband

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
ajit pai, fcc, net neutrality



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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  1. icon
    Mike Masnick (profile), 18 May 2017 @ 10:56pm

    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.


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