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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's proposal would dismantle the regulatory framework put in place under the Obama administration to protect net neutrality.
Federal Communications Commission leaders announced Tuesday their plan to roll back regulations that prevent internet services from speeding up, slowing down or blocking access to certain websites.
The proposal, submitted by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, would dismantle the regulatory framework put in place under the Obama administration to protect net neutrality, largely returning control of the online ecosystem to major broadband providers like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
Commissioners will vote on the proposal at their Dec. 14 meeting. With Republicans controlling three of the five seats at the commission, the measure is widely expected to pass.
The plan specifically targets the 2015 expansion of Title II of the Communications Act, which classified broadband service as a utility. As such, companies are prohibited from prioritizing certain websites or users over others by charging more for faster speeds.
The plan also shifts some enforcement responsibility to the Federal Trade Commission, which would be charged with ensuring ISPs uphold their public commitments and statements.
In a Wall Street Journal op-ed, Pai said rolling back these “heavy-handed regulations” would spark greater competition and lower compliance costs for providers, which would lead to cheaper, higher quality and more widely accessible internet service for consumers.
While Verizon and Comcast welcomed Pai’s proposal, opponents argue that Title II serves as the legal basis for a free and open internet. They worry repealing the rules will stifle small businesses unable to afford high-speed premiums, and potentially open the door for censorship by the government and private corporations.
Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel spoke out against the Pai’s plan to repeal net neutrality, calling it a “giveaway” to big telecom companies at the expense of American consumers.
“This is ridiculous and offensive to the millions of Americans who use the internet every day,” Rosenworcel said in a statement. “Our internet economy is the envy of the world because it is open to all. This proposal tears at the foundation of that openness.”
Tech-savvy lawmakers also took shots at Pai’s plan, which they said would change the way every American gets information, consumes media and maintains relationships.
“Today the FCC has threatened to end the internet as we know it,” said Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in a statement. “By repealing basic net neutrality protections, the FCC is handing over full control of the internet to providers, leaving the American people with fewer choices and less access.”
As one of net neutrality’s biggest supporters on the Hill, Schatz joinedtech companies and thousands of internet activists in protesting efforts to repeal Title II back in July. Between May and August, the FCC received more than 22 million comments from the public weighing in on net neutrality.
Jack Corrigan is an editorial fellow at Government Executive and Nextgov.