FCC wants to kill net neutrality rules: What opponents say

The new chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, has long opposed net neutrality — so he wants to throw the rules out the window.

The Republican, who was nominated as commissioner to the Federal Communications Commission by President Obama and nominated for the chairman position by President Trump, said in a speech in Washington on Wednesday that “the internet is the greatest free-market success story in history,” and that rules only hinder it.

Pai wants to dismantle the hard-fought net neutrality rules put in place in 2015 under the previous administration. The issue prompted millions of Americans to contact the FCC to urge it to protect net neutrality. But Pai claims that the adoption of regulations on net neutrality — the principle that all internet traffic should be treated equally — was a political power grab.

The rules classify broadband providers as common carriers, and give the FCC the power to regulate them. Pai and other net neutrality opponents — such as broadband companies — say such regulation discourages investment in internet infrastructure.

“The truth of the matter is that we decided to abandon successful policies solely because of hypothetical harms and hysterical prophecies of doom,” Pai said. “It’s almost as if the special interests pushing Title II weren’t trying to solve a real problem but instead looking for an excuse to achieve their longstanding goal of forcing the Internet under the federal government’s control.”

Pai said he will release a notice of proposed rulemaking today, which will open up his plan for comment.

At the moment, the FCC has two Republicans, including Pai, and one Democrat, whose term ends in June. A vote on the plan could begin as soon as next month.

Here’s how net neutrality advocates — who argue that killing net neutrality could hurt technological innovation — are reacting to Pai’s push.

Tim Berners-Lee, widely known as father of the World Wide Web, pointed out that internet access in the United States is controlled by only a few big players: “The FCC’s announcements… suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?”

Google has spoken out in favor of net neutrality in the past but would not comment on Pai’s move to dismantle the rules. A spokeswoman on Thursday referred SiliconBeat to the official statement by the Internet Association, which represents many well-known tech companies, including Netflix, which also has been vocal about its support for net neutrality.

“The internet industry is continuing our efforts to defend the existing rules on the books at the FCC,” Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman said.

In addition, the startup community wrote Pai a letter objecting to his move to roll back the rules. They worry that the powerful gatekeepers of the internet could hold them back by imposing tolls or making other moves.

Incumbents “could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors,” the letter, signed by Y Combinator and about 800 tech startups, said.

Tom Wheeler, who was chairman of the FCC when it adopted the net neutrality rules, co-wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post with Sens. Ron Wyden and Al Franken, both Democrats.

“Small businesses shouldn’t have to outbid massive conglomerates just to get their product in front of consumers’ eyes,” they wrote. “If net neutrality is gutted, only the biggest conglomerates will be able to pay for the fastest Internet speeds. In many ways, it’s our small, innovative, next-generation businesses that have the most to lose.”

And Tim Wu, the Columbia Law School professor who coined the “net neutrality” phrase, tweeted the following after Pai’s speech:

Photo: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks during the 2017 NAB Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center on April 25, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)


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