Let’s get ready to rumble, again, over net neutrality.
For just more than two years now we’ve enjoyed the sweet life, with internet providers required to abide by strong rules that prevented them from messing with our beautiful, weird, open internet. Now, those rules are reportedly on the chopping block.
Reuters and the Wall Street Journal have both reported that Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai recently met with lobbyists for internet companies over how to go about undoing those rules.
The rules became a hallmark of the Obama administration’s efforts to ensure an open and fair internet and they are now reportedly on the chopping block a move that comes as little surprise considering Donald Trump picked Pai to head the U.S. government’s main internet regulatory agency.
The news that Pai is gearing up to go after net neutrality means pro-internet advocates are heading to their battle stations.
“We’re gearing up for one hell of a fight,” said Evan Greer, cofounder and co-director of internet nonprofit Fight for the Future, in an email.
Activists like Greer enjoyed a major victory just more than two years ago when the FCC voted to make a wonky but crucial change to how internet companies are regulated. The move made it legal for the FCC to aggressively police internet providers and make rules that ensured they would abide by net neutrality principles.
In place of the rules, Pai reportedly wants internet providers to sign pledges that would let the FCC wash its hands of regulating them. The companies would pledge to: not block access to websites or internet-based services, not purposefully slow down particular internet traffic, and not offer to create fast lanes for companies willing to pay (i.e. Netflix paying Comcast so that your stream is faster).
That’s not all. Pai’s plan would let him remove the FCC entirely from regulating internet providers. Instead, the Federal Trade Commission would oversee internet service providers.
Such a change would mark a major shift in how internet companies are policed.
This is something these companies have wanted for a long time, as the FTC operates far differently than the FCC. The FCC actively makes rules and enforces them; the FTC passively watches markets and only acts if it’s presented with evidence of bad practices. Net neutrality advocates have little to no faith that this kind of hands-off regulation would be effective.
Spokespeople for the FCC and for Pai’s office declined to comment.
Advocates aren’t going to take this kind of thing sitting down, and they don’t have to. As former counselor to the previous FCC chairman Gigi Sohn pointed out recently, it won’t be as simple as taking another vote.
The process, she said, would probably take at least a year due to how the FCC operates. And Pai and his FCC will have to defend their actions in court.
“You can’t just simply reverse a decision like this without having a very strong record justifying it,” Sohn said. “It’s going to go back to the same court and probably the same judge who’s written all three net neutrality opinions, and he’s going to say, ‘What the hell is this? You got it right two years ago. What has changed so drastically in two years that warrants a complete and total reversal?'”
In the meantime, Sohn and Greer noted, there will be plenty of outcry from activists and citizens.
“Internet users are more aware than ever before of how important net neutrality protections are. If Congress or the FCC attempts to destroy net neutrality, we’ll open up an Internet-size can of whoop-ass on them,” Greer said.
And, hopefully, we’ll get another John Oliver segment on net neutrality.
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