Remaining FCC Commissioners Promise To Gut Net Neutrality 'As Soon As Possible'
from the nice-knowin'-ya dept
Just in case the nation's incumbent ISPs didn't get the message that "happy days are here again" for Comcast, AT&T and friends, Pai and fellow FCC Commissioner Mike O'Rielly penned a letter this week to the telecom industry's five largest lobbying groups, proudly proclaiming that the new FCC will attempt to put net neutrality on the chopping block "as soon as possible":
"[W]e will seek to revisit [the disclosure] requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible," they wrote, referring to the order that imposed net neutrality rules and reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Pai and O'Rielly noted that they "dissented from the Commission's February 2015 Net Neutrality decision, including the Order's imposition of unnecessary and unjustified burdens on providers."Of course if you've actually paid attention you'll recall that net neutrality has broad, bipartisan support among consumers, and companies like Comcast have let slip that neutrality -- and the shift to Title II -- really have had little actual impact on their businesses despite ample hand-wringing among sector giants. And of course the rollback of Title II won't just impact net neutrality, it would hamstring the FCC as broadband consumer watchdog entirely, demolishing efforts like the FCC's recently passed privacy rules that simply require ISPs are transparent about data collection and provide working opt-out tools.
Pai and O'Rielly will have a 2-1 Republican majority on the FCC after the departure of Democratic Chairman Tom Wheeler on January 20. Pai previously said that the Title II net neutrality order's "days are numbered" under Trump, while O'Rielly said he intends to "undo harmful policies" such as the Title II reclassification."
This disconnect between what consumers want and what ISPs want will prove tricky for Pai and friends, who'll face major bureaucratic difficulties and a significant activist backlash in trying to roll back the rules. Doing so will require a lengthy, new comment period, during which the media and activists would only highlight how Pai and O'Rielly are undermining the very innovation they often pay empty lip service to.
As such, you can expect some impressive theatrics in the new year. This will likely come in the form of a Communications Act rewrite or another bill that professes to adore net neutrality, but actively works to undermine the entire concept via the law. Much like the eleventh hour faux-neutrality bill pushed last year by Senator John Thune and Representative Fred Upton, this legislation will almost certainly contain ample, intentional loopholes, will only ban the most egregious violations (like outright banning websites, which no ISPs would do), and will act to formally make non-net neutrality the law of the land.
It will then attempt to declare the matter settled, ignoring the lack of competition that makes such violations possible in the first place. This kind of net neutrality trojan horse is something Wheeler warned about last week when he announced his January 20 resignation as current boss of the agency:
"Wheeler mostly declined to speak about the Trump administration's potential policies but said he hopes that net neutrality rules that forbid blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization will survive. One possibility is for Congress to eliminate Wheeler's net neutrality rules and impose a new, weaker version. "I hope that if there is legislation, that it is net neutrality in more than name," and "not some kind of false labeling where net neutrality rules are actually gutted under the name of being net neutrality," Wheeler said."Whatever form this new proposal takes you can be certain it will feature breathless adoration of consumers, innovation, and broadband competition -- while actively undermining all three.