FCC To Vote on Restoring Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules That Critics Say Gives the Administrative State Control of the Internet

‘A gaggle of Beltway partisans and activists’ have made net neutrality ‘a civic religion,’ the former FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, tells the Sun.

AP/Carolyn Kaster, file
A protester near the Federal Communications Commission in 2017. AP/Carolyn Kaster, file

“A complete waste of time” is what former Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, calls an upcoming vote to reinstate Obama-era net neutrality rules.

The debate over net neutrality — regulations that require internet providers to treat data flowing across its networks equally— centers around the extent to which internet service providers, such as Verizon or AT&T, are public utilities that should fall under the FCC’s regulatory jurisdiction. 

Mr. Pai led the charge during President Trump’s term to rescind the rules — but a day after Democrats gained a majority at the FCC last fall, they began the months-long process of restoring net neutrality. The commission is set to vote on April 25 on a proposal to bring back the rules, which the agency says would resurrect a “national standard for broadband reliability, security, and consumer protection.”

The FCC would bring back the rules by classifying internet service providers as “common carrier services” under Title II of the 1934 Communications Act, giving the agency much wider authority over the broadband providers.

Proponents of net neutrality say that it protects a free, open, and fair internet by not allowing internet providers to slow down or speed up website access, or charge consumers extra for accessing specific websites. Opponents counter that the rules stem from a section of a nearly-century old law and aren’t fit for modern internet regulation. They say that since the Trump administration rescinded the Obama-era neutrality rules, the internet has seen innovation — and fear that bringing them back will lead to unnecessary and overbearing government interference. 

Mr. Pai is standing by the Trump administration’s rescinding of the rules. The internet is better off today than it was when the rules were in place, he tells the Sun.

“Contrary to hysterical predictions over half a decade ago when the FCC repealed these rules, the Internet today serves more American consumers than ever before, better services than ever before,” he says.“That’s the primary reason why nobody actually cares about this issue, outside of a gaggle of Beltway partisans and activists for whom net neutrality is a civic religion.”

The FCC said in a statement that a vote to restore the rules would mean the commission will  “once again play a key role in preventing at the federal level broadband providers from blocking, slowing down, or creating pay-to-play internet fast lanes.” The commission says the rules will allow the agency to collect outage data and require companies to address outages when consumers lose internet service. The agency maintains the rules will help it monitor “emerging digital threats” and address national security concerns. 

“The pandemic proved once and for all that broadband is essential,” FCC’s Democratic chairwoman, Jessica Rosenworcel, said in a statement. “After the prior administration abdicated authority over broadband services, the FCC has been handcuffed from acting to fully secure broadband networks, protect consumer data, and ensure the internet remains fast, open, and fair.”

The commission’s senior Republican, Brendan Carr, said he will vote no on the “unlawful plan,” calling it a “big gift to Big Tech.

The net neutrality vote “comes on the heels of President Biden’s demand that the FCC give the Administrative State new controls over the Internet through ‘digital equity’ rules, which the agency did last November through a party-line vote,” Mr. Carr wrote in a statement on X. “All of these steps are part of the Biden Administration’s plan for expanding government control of the Internet.”

The New York Sun

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