FCC Votes To Repeal Obama-Era Net Neutrality Protections

Update: House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) issued the following statement following Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai’s actions to undo net neutrality regulations:

“Despite its unassuming name, the Obama administration’s net neutrality regulation threatens the free and open internet that has done so much to advance modern society. The Trump administration’s action to roll back this egregious government overreach into the most innovative space will benefit all users of the internet. As Chairman Pai outlined today, the way to protect consumers is to put the Federal Trade Commission back on the beat to crack down on those who would abuse open access. This new plan of action will open new avenues for telemedicine, distance learning, and future innovations."

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman - who positioned himself as a leading voice against the decision - announced shortly after the vote that he would lead a multistate lawsuit to stop the rollback of net neutrality. Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson said he would join the suit.

Nancy Pelosi has also chimed in, tweeting that the FCC "voted to throw away net neutrality" and that the rules led to "good jobs" and "saving families money."

 

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Three weeks after introducing the plan, the FCC - in a 3-2 vote along party lines - has voted to repeal net neutrality rules adopted by the Obama administration in 2015, triggering a torrent of outraged backlash from consumers who view the decision as blatantly benefitting telecoms companies at the public's expense.

While events proceeded mostly as expected, the lengthy hearing was interrupted by a "brief recess" shortly before 1 p.m. Media reports said the room was cleared because of an unspecified threat, and Capitol police brought in bomb-sniffing dogs to check the area before the comments could resume.

"The fight for the future of the internet has come to a head" is one of the dramatic headlines surrounding the Republican-led FCC's. Democrats on the committee dissented to the decision, describing it as an "internet-destroying" order that would benefit corporations at the extent of broadband consumers.

"The public can plainly see that a soon to be toothless FCC is ahdning the keys to the Internet...over to a handful of multi-billion-dollar corporations," one Democratic member said.

Ajit Pai, the FCC chairman appointed by President Trump, has framed the repeal as getting the government to "stop micromanaging the internet."

The issue was the fourth item on the agency's agenda. It was entitled "Restoring Internet Freedom."

Making the case for the rule, a lawyer for the Wireline Bureau, a Telecom industry lobbying group, said the Obama era rules stifle conpetition and deter investment.

But one dissenting commissioner - in a longwinded defense of the status quo - blasted Telecoms companies and the FCC for siding with corporations against the "will of the people.

"When the current protections are abandoned...we will have a Cheshire Cat version of net neutrality. We will be in a world where regulatory substance fades to black, and all thats left is a broadband providers toothy grin," the Commissioner said. "Right now we have every incentive to do the right thing. Now, they’ll have every incentive to do their own thing."

She also complained that the FCC refused to acknowledge public comments opposing the rule change, while deliberately ignoring the public backlash.

In comments defending Pai's plan, another commission described opponents' claims about harms to consumers resulting from the rule change were "fraudulent" and didn't represent "reality".

"This decision will NOT break the internet. What we are doing is reverting back to the bi-partisan approach that existed before 2015," he said. 

He added that there is no legal basis to delay the committee's decision.

Shortly before the vote, Pai reiterated his argument that net neutrality existed before the Obama administration applied Title II protections to broadband access. But Pai said the apocolyptic rhetoric is "quite somethng."

"The sky isn't falling consumers will remain protected and the Internet will flourish," he said. "Title II did not create the open internet, and Title II isn't necessary to maintain it."

He added that the decision includes "powerful legal checks" to stop ISPs from taking advantage of consumers.

 

The FCC's proposal elicited vociferous public outrage, with both Democratic and Republican lawmakers speaking out against the decision, denouncing the plan as a corporate powergrab that would benefit telecoms companies at the expense of virtually everybody else. Indeed, the issue is extremely unpopular, with some polls showing 75% of the public opposes Pai's proposed changes.

Furthermore, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has said his office discovered more than 100,000 fake comments related to the Net Neutrality issue..

 

 

Here is The Mises Institute's Brian Dellinger to put this decision in context...

On November 21, the Federal Communications Commission announced plans to revisit its Obama-era internet regulations. It seems likely that the resulting vote will repeal the policies often referred to as net neutrality. The name is, perhaps, misleading; to support net neutrality is to support placing the internet more fully under government supervision. The related political debate often divides traditional allies with arguments for free expression pitted against defenses of small government.

To understand net neutrality, one must see its position in technical history. Traditionally, internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast and Verizon, have guaranteed their customers a certain quantity of bandwidth – that is, a certain amount of data per unit of time. It was assumed that even a voracious user would rarely use his maximum bandwidth, and services were priced under this assumption. ISPs also de facto allowed customers to access whatever websites they wished; while there was no legal protection for this behavior, technical complexities made discrimination by website infeasible. The result was a largely open web: anyone with a blog could potentially reach millions.

In the early 2000s, the situation changed. Technological innovations enabled providers to determine which site a user visited and so potentially to restrict access. In principle, an ISP could now sell “packages” of websites, in a fashion resembling cable television: “basic internet” for news and Facebook, say, or “premium internet” for those who wanted more. These years also saw the rising popularity of streaming video services like Netflix and YouTube. Users now binge-watched videos, consuming their maximum available bandwidth for hours at a stretch. Such trends increased costs for the ISPs, leading them to investigate new responses: restricted access to high-usage sites, artificially slow downloads, and so on.

Net neutrality stands in opposition to these changes. Broadly, under net neutrality, the government requires ISPs to treat all web traffic in the same way: no limiting access, no reducing speed. Since 2005, the FCC has several times established net neutrality regulations; inevitably, the courts struck down such rules on the grounds that the FCC lacked the authority to regulate ISPs. In response, in 2015 the FCC redefined broadband internet as a telecommunications service, placing it under FCC jurisdiction, and promptly passed net neutrality rules. With the political shift of the 2016 elections, new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began rolling back these regulations – hence the upcoming vote.

Both sides of the debate have merit. Concerns that ISPs might slow targeted websites are not idle speculation; Comcast did precisely thatto Netflix in 2014. Indeed, Comcast and others have done little to engender public trust in their behavior. Comcast had pledged for years not to “prioritize Internet traffic or create paid fast lanes.” That pledge disappeared from its website less than a day after Pai announced policy changes.

It is also true that the meritocratic nature of the internet – its enabling of anyone to win a following through quality work – has been one of its most notable virtues. A world of “basic internet,” in which new entrants might be simply unreachable, would reduce its value as a platform for new ideas.

Despite these fair concerns, arguments against the FCC rollback seem insufficient. It is difficult to deny that price incentives have drastically shifted over the last decade; if streaming video is generating much of the ISPs’ expenses, it makes intuitive sense that providers might demand Netflix share those costs, or might price service by total consumption rather than maximum bandwidth. Nor are the corporations supporting net neutrality any more trustworthy than the ISPs. Setting Netflix aside, supporters such as Google and Facebook seek to block ISPs from trading in users’ private information – a trade on which these companies themselves depend. For them, net neutrality eliminates the competition.

Other objections rely too heavily on speculation. While a “fast lane” internet would be a marked shift, the brief history of the web is one of constant change. Indeed, the rise of mobile browsing, which often limits the user to app-specific websites and now constitutes a majority of all web usage, may produce a greater alteration than that net neutrality would prevent.

Further, the internet is historically the result of market activity rather than top-down regulations. If one approves of its remarkable evolution to this point, it seems peculiar to assert that this is the moment to freeze it through government action. Given how few accurately predicted that evolution, it seems hubristic to assert how it will change next. Perhaps, as the ISPs argue, the increased revenue from a non-neutral internet would enable the expansion of broadband networks, ending regional monopolies of service providers. Such a change might ultimately produce a faster, more accessible internet – or it might not, but the experiment seems worth the risk.

Finally, whatever one’s feelings on net neutrality, the 2015 rules should be seen for what they are: a staggering expansion of bureaucratic power, by decree of the bureaucracy itself. The result is an ugly patchwork of overlapping authority between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, with ISPs disfavored over similar services. This reclassification can never be a stable solution; it will always be vulnerable to precisely the kind of unilateral repeal currently occurring.

If the public supports net neutrality, then let it be defended through the proper channel: by laws, and not bureaucratic fiat.

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At least one person lampooned the hysterical backlash to the plan shortly before the decision...