Technology firms and consumer advocacy groups in the US are planning to challenge telecom regulators’ decision to back a proposal by its Indian-American chairman Ajit Pai to rollback Obama-era net neutrality rules aimed at ensuring a free and open internet. The Federal Communications Commission, in a 3-2 vote, yesterday adopted a proposal by Republican-appointed chairman Pai. The action reversed the agency’s 2015 decision, during the previous Obama administration, to have stronger oversight over broadband providers. The agency scrapped regulations that prohibited broadband providers from blocking websites or charging for higher- quality service or certain content. The federal government will also no longer regulate high-speed internet delivery as if it were a utility, like phone service. The critics say the move is against the interest of the consumers and favours big corporate companies.
Pai and others in favour of the decision argued the deregulation of the internet would spur innovation, and that the Federal Trade Commission would have the authority to sue providers who abuse competition on the web. Yesterday’s decision restores the longstanding, bipartisan light-touch regulatory framework that has fostered rapid Internet growth, openness, and freedom for nearly 20 years, the FCC said in a statement after the voting.
Following detailed legal and economic analysis, as well as extensive examination of comments from consumers and stakeholders, the Commission reversed the FCC’s 2015 heavy- handed utility-style regulation of broadband internet access service, which imposed substantial costs on the entire internet ecosystem, it said. In place of that heavy-handed framework, the FCC is returning to the traditional light-touch framework that was in place until 2015, it asserted. Moreover, the FCC also adopted robust transparency requirements that will empower consumers as well as facilitate effective government oversight of broadband providers’ conduct, it said.
“In particular, the FCC’s action has restored the jurisdiction of the Federal Trade Commission to act when broadband providers engage in anticompetitive, unfair, or deceptive acts or practices,” the federal commission said.
It will take weeks for the repeal to go into effect, but the political and legal fight started immediately. Numerous Democrats called for a bill that would reestablish the rules, and several Democratic state attorneys general said they would file a suit to stop the change. Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said the FCC’s radical, partisan decision to dismantle net neutrality “strikes a stunning blow” to the promise of a free and open internet.
“With this unjustified and blatant giveaway to big providers, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is proving himself an eager executor of the Trump Administration’s anti-consumer, anti- competition agenda,” she said. Pelosi alleged that FCC’s rule change process was marked by haste, secrecy and technical flaws from the start. “This arbitrary decision was made without a single public hearing and over the firm opposition of Internet experts and technologists,” she said. “It is deeply disturbing that Pai’s FCC has refused to take action to combat the threat of identity theft and fake comments in the agency record, and has refused to comply with FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests or requests for information from the New York Attorney General’s Investigation,” Pelosi said.
Several public interest groups including Public Knowledge and the National Hispanic Media Coalition also promised to file a suit. The Internet Association, the trade group that represents big tech firms such as Google and Facebook, said it also was considering legal action. “The Internet industry opposes Chairman Pai’s repeal of the 2015 Open Internet Order,” Michael Beckerman, president and CEO of the Internet Association, a trade group representing Amazon, Facebook, Google and other tech companies, said in a statement. “Relying on ISPs (Internet service providers) to live up to their own ‘promises’ is not net neutrality and is bad for consumers.”
“The fight isn’t over. Internet Association is currently weighing our legal options in a lawsuit against today’s order, and remains open to Congress enshrining strong, enforceable net neutrality protections into law.” Netflix ripped the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality rules, calling it “misguided”. “This is the beginning of a longer legal battle. Netflix stands w/ innovators, large & small, to oppose this misguided FCC order,” the company tweeted shortly after the FCC voted on the measure. “The @FCC’s vote to gut #NetNeutrality rules is a body blow to innovation and free expression. We will continue our fight to defend the open internet and reverse this misguided decision,” Twitter Public Policy said in a tweet.
Pai defended the repeal before the vote, saying the rollback of the rules would eventually benefit consumers because broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast could offer them a wider variety of service options. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, said in a statement he will lead a multi-state lawsuit to challenge the reversal. House Speaker Paul Ryan welcomed the decision. “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,” he said. The Trump administration’s action to roll back this egregious government overreach into the most innovative space will benefit all users of the internet, he said.
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