FCC chair Ajit Pai takes another step toward getting rid of net neutrality
The battle over net neutrality just took another decisive turn
The big news this week politically was, of course, Federal Communication Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai’s release of his plan to get rid of net neutrality rules established in 2015. Pai has been threatening to do this for months, and now that he has a 3-2 Republican majority on the FCC board, he’ll likely have the support he needs on December 14th when the plan is voted on. Net neutrality, considered a core tenet of a fully open internet, has had a difficult, and short-lived, go of it here in the US –
- Just before the first Open Internet Order establishing net neutrality was enacted in 2010, Comcast sued the FCC over a 2008 decision establishing its intent to police ISPs for net neutrality, and won. That decision essentially overturned the Open Internet Order that followed, since the FCC, according to the ruling, did not have the power to regulate net neutrality.
- Another lawsuit, this time in 2014 by Verizon, nailed the coffin shut when the same decision was reached.
- The victory for ISPs was Pyrrhic, however: in the 2014 decision, the judges argued that the FCC did not have the power to regulate ISPs, based on how they’d previously classified them. So, later that same year, the FCC reclassified the ISPs as telecommunications services – as opposed to the previous classification of information services – and passed a new set of net neutrality rules.
- After a new suit by ISPs failed in June of 2015, the rules went into effect.
- This year, Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai as chair of the FCC, and with the confirmation of Brendan Carr as the fifth and final FCC commissioner, Republicans gained a majority on the board.
- A public commenting period on the repeal plan has been riddled with controversy and fraud: at least 800,000 of the 22 million submitted comments have the same generic text critical of net neutrality, and, according to the FCC, millions of other comments contain form messages supporting net neutrality. More than a million comments, as well, were submitted from addresses in France, Russia, and Germany, according to the National Legal and Policy Center, a conservative political nonprofit.
Although ISPs have been lining up behind Pai’s plan to get rid of net neutrality (and in fact, were fighting for it long before Pai’s plan was released), many of them have also promised to abide by net neutrality principles regardless. Critics, however, can point to a long history of ISPs doing the opposite. On December 7th, supporters of net neutrality will protest in front of Verizon stores across the country.
Quick take: what’s happening here is politics, plain and simple. The ISPs all claim to support net neutrality, but they’re fighting for something they value even more: a free market. The argument is that competition will naturally take care of net neutrality, since no consumer will want to spend their money with an ISP that restricts their internet freedom. The problem with this argument is, of course, that history doesn’t bear this out: ISPs have been caught tampering a number of times, and the fear of net neutrality supporters is that, with the FCC’s decidedly pro-ISP turn, this will only get worse.
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header image: FCC chair Ajit Pai, USDA / flickr