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The Federal Communications Commission is moving ahead with plans to overturn net neutrality rules despite strong opposition from consumer groups.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (shown) said he’d disclose details Wednesday. The outline could be formally adopted by FCC commissioners in December.
Net neutrality is the principle that all internet traffic to consumers should be treated equally. Under the Obama-era FCC, new rules were put in place to strengthen these protections so that internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, can’t block or slow down some websites and internet services while favoring others.
The agency also banned them from entering “paid prioritizaton” deals, where they offer special fast lanes for in exchange for fees from content providers.
In a statement, Pai said he would undo those “heavy-handed” regulations and restore a “light-touch” approach to the internet.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in the statement. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
The move to dismantle the rules, which has been expected for months, drew a mixed reaction. Many consumer groups are decrying the measure, while ISPs and telecom companies support the regulatory roll-back. (Web-based companies such as Google and Facebook generally favor net neutrality rules.)
Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, has been an outspoken advocate for net neutrality rules.
“If the FCC approves this proposal, it would be an enormous loss for consumers,” says Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union. “Repealing the net neutrality rules would give internet service providers more power and control over the websites we can visit, and it would make it harder for small businesses and innovators to compete online. This move would likely lead to consumers paying higher prices for the internet access and speeds they have today.”
Schwantes noted that Consumers Union’s surveys show that most Americans want strong standards for net neutrality. They are “vital to consumers’ everyday lives and essential to preserving the internet as we know it today—an open marketplace where websites large and small compete on equal terms and where information and ideas move freely,” he says.
Verizon is among the internet service providers supporting the proposed change. Kathy Grillo, senior vice president and deputy general counsel for public policy and government affairs, says the company is “very encouraged” by the FCC’s announcement.
In particular, she praised the expected reversal of Title II reclassification under the Communications Act.
Back in 2015, internet service providers were reclassified as telecommunications service providers, as defined by that legislation. Basically, that change put ISPs in the same category as phone companies and gave the FCC much stronger authority to regulate them.
Under Pai’s proposal, ISPs will revert to their previous status as Title I information services, under the regulatory authority of the Federal Trade Commission, which Pai called “the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop.”
Grillo says Title II is “an outdated approach [that] was unnecessary and out of step with today’s dynamic and competitive internet,” adding that it undermined investment and innovation and posed a significant threat to the internet’s continued ability to grow and evolve to meet consumers’ needs.
Nonetheless, Grillo says, Verizon continues to support the concept of net neutrality and the open internet.
“We continue to believe that users should be able to access the internet when, where, and how they choose, and our customers will continue to do so,” Grillo says. “We are also confident that the FCC will reinstate a framework that protects consumers’ access to the open internet, without forcing them to bear the heavy costs from unnecessary regulation that chases away investment and chills innovation.”
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