Internet Firms Winding Up For A Fight On 'Net Neutrality'

The FCC's 2015 net neutrality, or open internet, rules reclassified broadband as a regulated, common-carrier service - as opposed to a lightly regulated communications service - as the foundation for regulations that prohibited broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing web traffic and services.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said he would ask the agency next month to begin considering removing the strong legal authority that underpins the rules, and to take suggestions for replacement regulations.

"Going forward, we can not stick with regulations from the Great Depression that were meant to micromanage Ma Bell", Pai said in a speech at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. Several internet providers said they didn't plan to do those things and Comcast said Wednesday that it supported undoing the net neutrality rules but did not "block, throttle or discriminate" against internet content.

Pai's announcement drew immediate fire from consumer advocates and others who claimed it will allow big broadband firms such as AT&T (Sao Paolo: ATTB34.SA - news) and Verizon (NYSE: VZ - news) to choke off or slow access to competing "edge" services like video operators Netflix (Xetra: 552484 - news) and Amazon.

By Pai, a Republican nominated as chairman by Trump at the beginning of the year, had signaled his intention to roll back these rules nearly immediately after he took charge.

A group of more than 800 startups, including Etsy, Foursquare and Warby Parker, wrote to Pai on Wednesday urging him to protect "enforceable net neutrality rules", saying America's startup ecosystem depends on them.

That approach is known as Title II reclassification. "We can not keep the promise of net neutrality openness and freedom without the rules that ensure it".

"Earlier today, I shared with my fellow Commissioners a proposal to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light-touch regulatory framework that served our nation so well during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the first six years of the Obama Administration", Pai said. 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. "Sprint looks forward to working with the FCC, consumers, and content providers towards that end". "But those heights have been threatened by federal regulations that set a unsafe precedent by focusing on controlling the internet rather than protecting consumers".

"It makes no sense for the government to be discouraging investment in the newspaper industry", Pai said a year ago. For example, the Obama FCC said that "zero rating" practices by AT&T violated net neutrality. "Instead, we need rules that focus on growth and infrastructure investment, rules that expand high-speed Internet access everywhere and give Americans more online choice, faster speeds, and more innovation", Pai said in his speech.

Net neutrality protest in 2014. The FCC plans to release an official proposal for the vote on Thursday.

But Pai's idea to rely on corporate promises is too weak to be effective by itself, according to Mignon Clyburn, the FCC's lone Democrat, and Terrell McSweeny, the top Democrat at the Federal Trade Commission.

Opponents of the FCC's regulation also argue that the 2015 decision to classify ISPs as "common carriers" similar to telephone companies violates the FCC's congressional charter and has deterred ISPs from upgrading their networks for fear of direct price regulation by the agency. Some studies have concurred with that assertion, though net-neutrality advocates say it's hard to separate the effect of Title II in a vacuum from the wider economic trends of the telecoms industry.

  • Wendy Palmer