The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released a notice of proposed rulemaking for "Restoring Internet Freedom,” the plan by chairman Ajit Pai to roll back net neutrality protections adopted by the previous administration.
The commission is accepting public comment on the rule changes, which would remove the Title II classification that makes the internet a common carrier, and will put the proposal to a preliminary vote during an open meeting set to be hosted May 18.
At its core, the proposal brought by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is intended to undo the Open Internet Order passed by the FCC in 2015 under former Chairman Tom Wheeler during the Obama administration.
At the time, the commission voted to reclassify the internet as a common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which gave the FCC the regulatory authority to enforce net neutrality principles — which include no blocking of content, no throttling or slowing connections, and no paid prioritization.
Pai, who appointed chairman by President Donald Trump, holds he still believes in the tenets of net neutrality, but Title II is not the way to enforce it. Instead, his plan would reclassify the internet as an information service, offer a “light touch regulation” of net neutrality rules, and return authority to the Federal Trade Commission to police privacy practices of internet service providers.
The proposal would also seek comment on whether to change the “bright-line rules,” or the very tenets of net neutrality that Pai said he wants to protect.
His challenge to these principles stems from his belief that some versions of paid prioritization and throttling are actually beneficial to consumers.
"Despite virtually no quantifiable evidence of consumer harm, the commission nevertheless determined that it needed bright-line rules banning three specific practices by providers of both fixed and mobile broadband internet access service: blocking, throttling and paid prioritization," the draft proposal states.
Pai’s primary example is the practice of zero-rating, in which a carrier offers a service to its subscribers without counting its data used by the service against the subscriber’s data allotment. The FCC under Wheeler challenged this practice, arguing it provided an unfair advantage to certain services — often ones owned by the ISP itself.
The FCC’s proposal has already drawn a stark divide between supporters and the staunch opposition.
Comcast has come out in favor of the proposal. In a statement provided to International Business Times, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian L. Roberts said, the company "fully support[s] reversal of Title II classification, a 1930s statute that is outdated and harms consumers by creating a cloud over broadband investment decisions and innovation.”
Brent Skorup, a research fellow at Koch-funded Mercatus Center, told IBT the announcement "is welcome news for Americans who believe that speech online and new internet services should not require permission from the nation’s media regulator. Innovators in Silicon Valley and across America should determine how the internet evolves, not lawyers and lobbyists in Washington.”
A number of Democratic senators have already offered full-throated rebukes of the FCC’s proposal, including Al Franken, D-Minn., who joined Ron Wyden, D-Wash., and Wheeler in penning an op-ed opposing changes to net neutrality rules for the Washington Post.
The Internet Association — which represents a number of internet giants including Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft — issued a statement Wednesday that said the current FCC net neutrality rules "are working and these consumer protections should not be changed. Consumers pay for access to the entire internet free from blocking, throttling or paid prioritization.”
The FCC also received a letter Wednesday signed by more than 800 startups, internet companies and organizations opposing Pai’s proposed rule changes and arguing in favor of strong net neutrality protections.
How To Lead A Comment On The FCC’s Net Neutrality Proposal
While interest groups and activists have issued public statements on the issue, the FCC is also accepting comments from citizens on the proposed rule changes ahead of its preliminary vote on May 18.
Comments can be made through the FCC’s website. Visit FCC.gov and click on the “Proceedings and Actions” tab at the top of the page. Click “Learn More” under the heading “File a Comment in a Proceeding.”
Those planning to comment will have the ability to fill out a standard filing or use the simplified express comment option to voice an opinion. Use “17-108” as the proceeding number to file comment on the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal.
The FCC also set up a dedicated page for comments on the issue — likely due to the overwhelming feedback received during the 2015 order’s comment period, which produced more than 4 million responses. The page allows users to fill out a template for comments and upload the file directly to the site.