Net neutrality death watch to commence in 3…2…

Americans gathering for Thanksgiving this week should not be including a free, fair and toll-free internet on their gratitude lists.

It appears this will be the week Ajit Pai, chair of the Federal Communications Commission, will start killing net neutrality.

Pai, appointed to his position by the Trump administration after serving as a commissioner under President Obama, has never liked the regulations enacted by his predecessor, Tom Wheeler. Pai believes net neutrality protections are solution in search of a problem; a governmental overreach that cripples development and dissuades investment and innovation.

Just a few weeks on the job, Pai announced he’d begin working to repeal the two-year-old net neutrality regulations as soon as possible. He went through the proper procedures of opening a public comment period, then promptly decided to ignore the 22 million comments left in support of the current regulations.

As a refresher, the current regulations, in place since June 2015, prohibit telecom companies from charging fees for faster service to websites like Netflix or YouTube, among other things. There’s historical precedent for this as a practice that needs to be eliminated: Comcast had to pay hefty fees after it was caught “throttling” Netflix service, meaning people sitting down to binge watch their latest obsession online found their stream jumpy, slow to buffer or otherwise annoying.

Pai’s efforts to kill net neutrality could be revealed as early as today (Tuesday, November 21), according to Politico, The Hill, The Wall Street Journal and others. He’s anticipated to share his grand vision with fellow commissioners. This will be “a major victory for the telecom industry in the long-running policy debate,” according to Politico reporter Margaret Harding McGill.

“The commission will vote on the proposal in December, some seven months after it laid the groundwork for scuttling the rules that require internet service providers like Comcast AT&T to treat web traffic equally,” McGill writes.

Of course, broadband providers like AT&T are LOVING this development and are likely to be very thankful for the action, The Hill reports.

“We applaud FCC Chairman Pai’s initiative to remove this stifling regulatory cloud over the internet,” AT&T says in a post. “Businesses large and small will have a clearer path to invest more in our nation’s broadband infrastructure under Chairman Pai’s leadership.”

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Florida) has other thoughts.

“Gutting these rules robs Americans of protections that preserve their access to the open and free internet. Depriving the FCC of its ongoing, forward-looking oversight of the broadband industry amounts to a dereliction of duty at a time when guaranteeing an open internet is more critical than ever.”

As Battle for the Net says, “Nearly everyone who understands and depends on the internet supports net neutrality, whether they’re startup founders, activists, gamers, politicians, investors, comedians, YouTube stars or typical internet users who just want their internet to work as advertised — regardless of their political party.”

All this talk of more investment without net neutrality – or hesitation to invest while it exists – seems to be the bullest of crap.

Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge says there’s little data to support this scare tactic.

“It’s only been two years, and though there was a small dip in investment, it was also attributable to factors like high oil prices and costly acquisitions,” he says. “The Republican commissioners also just generally believe that making companies fill out compliance forms and follow rules is onerous and prevents innovation.”

The initial outline of what Pai wants to do was rather vague, he continues. “It seems very safe to assume that it’ll under the Title II classification of internet providers and therefor remove all current net neutrality protections, since that’s the crux of the initial proposal. But there are some very big open questions beyond that: namely, what consumer protections with the FCC put in place of the rules that it’s striking down? That is, if it puts in place any new rules at all.”

For more on the proposals, or to get up to speed on the issue, read this, this and this.

Amber Healy

I write about music policy and lawsuits because they're endlessly fascinating.

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