The FCC’s New Plan Dismantles Net Neutrality to Rely on the Free Market
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Today, chairman of the Federal Trade Communications Commission, Ajit Pai outlined his new plan to loosen the FCC’s oversight of internet service providers. As expected, his dream plan effectively kills off many of the ideas of net neutrality.
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During a speech today, Pai outlined his plan, the full text of which we’ll see tomorrow. The plan attacks the 2015 ruling that treated internet providers like traditional utilities, like a telephone company, under what’s known as Title II of the Communications Act. This meant ISPs were subjected to tougher, utility-style regulations. While the Title II mandates had no effect on the price of services, they did require internet providers to follow a few rules, including: no blocking of sites, no paid “fast” lanes, and no throttling of speeds. Which is largely all beneficial for consumers.
For example, Title II meant that a company like Comcast could not throttle your speeds just because you watched too much Netflix, or in turn give Netflix a priority fast lane to provide higher quality streaming exclusively for Comcast users. The rules applied to wireless and wired providers. It also paved the way for regulations meant to protect your privacy, which Congress overturned before they could even take effect. As you’d expect, ISPs weren’t fans of Title II because it meant they were subject to countless rules and oversight.
Pai’s plan is still vague in details, but he gave us broad strokes. The new plan would reclassify internet providers as Title I information services again, moving most oversight from the FCC back to the FTC. This isn’t necessarily true, because while the FTC is prohibited from regulating common carrier, removing the common carrier designation won’t necessarily give the FTC authority. That would likely take another action by Congress.
Pai also argued that by rolling back the government oversight, the competition would encourage ISPs to spend more on their broadband networks and increase high-speed internet access across the United States. This in turn would theoretically create jobs for the workers who lay those data-filled pipelines. It’s unclear what the effect here would actually be though, since as the Consumerist points out, there isn’t much evidence that ISPs have slowed down funding since the rules took hold. The truth is, we just don’t really know what, if any jobs were effected, so it’s hard to say what’ll happen in the future.
As for privacy, the return of authority to the FTC would supposedly lay the groundwork to allow the FTC to sue companies that violate privacy policies. (But as we already mentioned, Congress already voted to let companies sell your data.) Pai also tossed in an oddly subtext-filled rant suggesting that those who support free speech shouldn’t support a measure that gives the government more control over the internet, saying, “We see it when members of the Federal Election Commission seek to restrict political speech and regulate online platforms like the Drudge Report.”
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Generally speaking Pai’s view can be summed up pretty simply: the government did nothing to regulate the internet between 1995 and 2015 and everything was fine, therefore it will be fine if the government does nothing in the future (though it’s worth pointing out that DSL and dial-up fell under Title II).
But there is a lot of opposition to the measure and widespread support for net neutrality from the likes of Google, Netflix, Facebook, and others. Most consumer-advocate groups support classifying ISPs as common carriers because it allows the government to ban awful practices, like blocking internet traffic. For their part, tech companies sent a letter to Pai on Wednesday, arguing that weakening net neutrality rules would “impede traffic from our services to favor their own service or established competitors.” In normal human speak, their worry is that a company like Time-Warner/Spectrum would provide faster, better access to their own services and throttle competitors.
Beyond that, consumer groups, like Fight for the Future, argue that Pai’s new rules could potentially allow for internet censorship, the exact opposite claim that Pai himself made. The suggestion here is that any ISP could block access to certain web sites or services because they’re competition, or because a government leans on them to do so. Net neutrality ensures that all sites, services, and apps are all treated equally and openly.
The final plan will be voted on by the FCC at a meeting on May 18th. If it’s approved, Pai will seek public feedback on the plan, and then months of debate are likely to follow.
Senior Writer, Lifehacker
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