FCC head announces plan to undo net neutrality

Opponents are already promising a ‘tsunami of resistance.’

FCC commissioners just before the historic 2015 vote to regulate the internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. CREDIT: AP Photo
FCC commissioners just before the historic 2015 vote to regulate the internet under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. CREDIT: AP Photo

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai outlined a plan on Wednesday to roll back Obama-era rules on net neutrality, saying he will ask the agency to start the rule-making process to undo the regulations next month.

“Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed,” Pai said during an event at the Newseum hosted by conservative-leaning think tank FreedomWorks. He called net neutrality a “black cloud” for internet providers that has caused “less access, fewer American jobs” thanks to declines in infrastructure investments.

Pai, who was appointed by in 2012 by former President Barack Obama and tapped by President Trump to lead the agency, has long opposed the net neutrality regulations that were put in place three years ago.

In 2015, the FCC voted to regulate high-speed internet service as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. This regulation gave the FCC the power to more strictly regulate internet providers like a utility or phone company, and was passed, in part, to prevent broadband companies from from blocking or slowing access speeds. Last year, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled to uphold the FCC’s authority to impose these net neutrality regulations.

But Pai argued in his speech that the net neutrality rules have discouraged investment in broadband infrastructure and cost thousands of jobs.

“The internet is the greatest free market success in history,” he said, adding that “light-touch regulation” during the 1990s and early 2000s allowed the tech industry to flourish and improved people’s access to technology.

Pai’s much-anticipated plan wasn’t revealed in detail Wednesday, but he has promised it will facilitate a “return to the tried and true approach” of internet regulation from the Bush and Clinton administrations.

Pai voted against net neutrality in 2015. Earlier this month, he relinquished power to oversees ISP privacy practices to the FTC after Congress repealed a set of privacy rules, a product of net neutrality, meant to keep internet providers from selling consumers’ online activity.

Pai announced that instead of unilaterally stripping the FCC of its power to regulate the internet as a utility, he is opting for a transparent rule-making process so the people can “weigh in.”

The FCC chairman said the he will release the full proposal Thursday, and the agency will host an open meeting May 18 to discuss it.

Democratic lawmakers who support net neutrality, and who argue that weakening the rules will threaten internet freedom, say the American people are ready to express their concerns about Pai’s proposal.

“Chairman Pai and the Trump administration should expect a tsunami of resistance from a grassroots movement of Americans,” Sen. Ed Markey (R-MA), said at a news conference before Pai’s announcement.

The FCC is now Republican-leaning where net neutrality opponents have a 2 to 1 majority — so although Pai’s proposal may have a long way to go before it may become law, his plans are expected to pass.