The Federal Communications Commission’s 2-1 vote Thursday on “Restoring Internet Freedom” was not a repeal of net neutrality regulations as many are reporting.
Following Thursday’s vote, a host of activists and public interest group leaders took to Twitter, blasting Republican Chairman Ajit Pai and President Donald Trump for “destroying the internet.”
— Diana (@dinamic72) May 18, 2017
He wants to destroy the internet so we have to roast him until this all goes down. https://t.co/wLngCFXJfW
— Peezy (@Pxxzy) May 18, 2017
While the POTUS soap opera continues, the FCC will be voting to take away #NetNeutrality today. This will destroy the internet we know.
— abby❤schroeder (@abby4schroeder) May 18, 2017
There’s no greater threat to the digital infrastructure of our world right now than ISPs. This is sophisticated terrorism. #netneutrality
— Shiloh Skye
Thursday’s vote does not immediately repeal 2015 regulations passed under President Obama’s FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. The vote initiates a notice of proposed rule-making, during which time industry stakeholders, advocates and the general public can submit comments to the FCC.
The 2-1 vote fell down party lines, with freshly appointed Republican Federal Communications Commisions Chairman Ajit Pai and Republican Commissioner Mike O’Rielly voting in favor of the measure. Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the daughter of Democratic South Carolina Rep. James Clyburn, voted against the measure.
In 2015, under former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC reclassified broadband internet access service as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act, which gave the FCC stronger oversight authority. Known as the 2015 Open Internet Order, the new rules established three “bright line rules” that prohibits internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking legal content over their networks, slowing down internet traffic, and prioritizing traffic from websites that are willing to pay to promote their web content over competitors.
Pai has long argued that the 2015 FCC decision to impose Title II utility-style government regulations on internet service providers (ISPs) was misguided and unnecessary.
“These utility-style regulations, known as Title II, were and are like the proverbial sledgehammer being wielded against the flea—except that here, there was no flea,” he said Thursday.
Clyburn gave a powerful dissent at the meeting, arguing the chairman’s plan contains a “hollow theory of trickle-down internet economics.” She argued against the notion that ISPs would act in the public’s best interest if the 2015 rules were disbanded and said the proposal would “deeply damage the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers and competition in the 21st century.”
While the first two rules have an exception for “reasonable network management,” the third rule regarding paid prioritization does not include the exception. Pai argued that the 2015 order was purely a political decision coming out of the White House.
“Days after a disappointing 2014 midterm election, and in order to energize a dispirited base, the White House released an extraordinary YouTube video instructing the FCC to implement Title II regulations,” Pai said during an April 26 speech on Net Neutrality in Washington D.C. “This was a transparent attempt to compromise the agency’s independence. And it worked.”
Before 2015, the internet was classified under Title I of the Communications Act as an information service. Title II classification comes from the landline telephone era where phone service was considered a public utility. “The internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” Pai said Thursday. “Nonetheless, the FCC that year succumbed to pressure from the White House and changed course.”
Pai asserted that, as a result of the 2015 reclassification, smaller ISPs face new regulatory burdens associated with the compliance obligations.
“Innovative providers hoping to offer their customers new, even free services had to fear a Washington bureaucracy that might disapprove and take enforcement action against them,” he said at the meeting Thursday.
Opponents of the 2015 order argue that the rules could lead to heavy-handed government interference that hurts business and in turn, hurts consumers. Those same opponents applauded Pai Thursday.
“This is not a proceeding designed to eliminate enforceable open internet protections,” David L. Cohen, Senior Vice President of Comcast, said of Thursday’s vote. “The purpose is to find a path to protect the openness of the internet without reliance on the dangerous and inappropriate Title II as the source of authority for such rules.”
Proponents of the 2015 rules argue that the decision today could be disastrous for the future of the internet.
“This proposal willfully ignores the realities of the market for broadband service, which is dominated by a handful of giant companies,” Ryan Clough, General Counsel of Public Knowledge, said in an email to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Few Americans have real competitive choices.”
Clough argued that Pai’s actions will give broadband providers unconstrained power to manipulate customer’s internet service.
“This proposal paves the way to an internet dominated by vertical integration and opaque deal-making between giant firms,” he said.
Berin Szoka, President of TechFreedom, said that today’s vote was not about net neutrality but legal authority over the internet.
“Democrats and Republicans have long agreed on the core of net neutrality: ISPs shouldn’t block or throttle traffic, they should provide transparency about their service plans, and anti-competitive conduct should be punished,” he said in statement. “The real debate is over the FCC’s power.”
The public will have 90 days to submit comments on their thoughts regarding the the FCC’s role in protecting an open internet.