FCC Kicks Off Effort To Roll Back Net Neutrality Rules

It’s game on in the fight over net neutrality.

In a 2-to-1 vote along party lines today, the FCC authorized a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to undo the 2015 decision to enforce open internet rules under Title II of the Communications Act. That empowers the agency to regulate the medium as a common carrier similar to phones.

The FCC will seek public comment for 90 days — up to August 16 — and could vote on the matter as early as October.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai made it clear that he wants to go back to Title I, which gives the agency less clout to regulate internet service providers. The U.S. Court of Appeals in D.C. overturned the FCC’s previous net neutrality rules saying that regulators lacked the authority to act under Title I.

“The internet was not broken in 2015,” Pai said today. “We were not living in a digital dystopia.”

His predecessor, Tom Wheeler, promoted Title II under “partisan pressure from the White House” and imposed “heavy handed” regulations on cable and phone internet providers, he says. That led some ISPs to hesitate to “build or expand networks.”

The FCC’s lone Democratic commissioner, Mignon Clyburn, rejects that argument.

“I have yet to see a credible analysis that suggests that broadband provider capital expenditures have declined as a result of our 2015 open internet order,” she says.

Indeed, “the most recent analysts of the market actually suggests that total capital investment by publicly traded internet service providers was up 5% since the 2015 open internet order was adopted. Edge investment? Up. Broadband revenues? Up…. There simply has not been enough market experience with this framework in order to tell what caused what.”

Companies, trade groups, and public interest groups wasted no time in responding. Here’s what some of the more prominent players said:

Writers Guild of America, East President Michael Winship and Executive Director Lowell Peterson:

The most profound innovations in Internet history were made possible precisely because of net neutrality, not despite it. Permitting powerful gatekeepers to control and prioritize what flows through this single pipe, at what rate and quality, has an enormous effect on what Americans watch and read and learn and write and communicate. Equal and open access is essential. Eliminating the Title II order will deprive the American people of precisely that equal and open access.

Comcast Senior EVP David Cohen:

Comcast supports strong, legally enforceable net neutrality protections that ensure a free and Open Internet for all of our customers. We do not and will not block, slow down, or discriminate against lawful content. Especially in the current heated political climate, we must come together, from across the aisle, both public and private sector, to find common ground that protects consumers on the core elements of net neutrality without unnecessary and harmful regulatory overreach.

Public Knowledge Associate Policy Counsel Kate Forscey:

Net neutrality is immensely important for the arts community. Strong Open Internet rules enable filmmakers, writers, graphics designers, YouTube vloggers, game developers and more to explore new ideas, raise funding for cutting edge projects and share their work with the public. The open internet provides a depthless well of inspiration that offers artists of every stripe independence to follow their creative passion wherever it leads. Such open access is especially important for fostering risky or controversial art that challenges our thinking as a society.

NCTA – The Internet & Television Association CEO Michael Powell:

Despite the hyperbolic claims, consumers realize that public utility regulation is not net neutrality. The cable industry has supported and delivered an open internet for decades. That open experience – which allows consumers to go anywhere and run any application on the internet – will not change. We look forward to participating in this proceeding and to forging a reasoned approach that will promote continued investment and innovation, and protect the open internet without the heavy yoke of public utility regulation.

Consumers Union Senior Policy Counsel Jonathan Schwantes:

This proposal should be chilling to everyone who values the internet as a platform for free speech, commerce, entrepreneurship, and citizen engagement. Preserving the open internet has prompted an unprecedented response from consumers on multiple occasions, with millions voicing their continued support for net neutrality rules. We implore Chairman Pai to listen to the interests of the public the Commission was tasked with protecting.

USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter:

The FCC is moving the conversation beyond the merits of net neutrality to how best to safeguard this universally embraced value with a modern, constructive policy framework. This rulemaking wisely focuses this debate and puts a pro-consumer, pro-innovation and pro-investment policy trifecta within our reach. The internet is a central, driving force for our modern economy, and there is a smarter path forward to unlocking the full, abundant promise of broadband for our nation.

Mozilla Foundation Chief Legal and Business Officer Denelle Dixon-Thayer:

Today’s FCC vote to repeal and replace net neutrality protections brings us one step closer to a closed internet. Although it is sometimes hard to describe the “real” impacts of these decisions, this one is easy: this decision leads to an internet that benefits Internet Service Providers (ISPs), not users, and erodes free speech, competition, innovation and user choice.

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