US telecoms regulator vows to dismantle net neutrality

22 Nov 2017

Image: Justein Hauge/Shutterstock

Ajit Pai presses ahead with FCC plans to dismantle Obama-era rules to protect an open internet.

Across America, the gates are about to come down on the open internet as FCC chair Ajit Pai reveals his plans to repeal net neutrality.

Put simply, internet fast lanes will open up for companies willing to pay extra to deliver their content more quickly. The fear is that this could result in costs being passed on to consumers.

‘I look forward to returning to the light-touch, market-based framework that unleashed the digital revolution and benefited consumers here and around the world’

The new order by Pai will see the removal of 2015 Obama-era net neutrality rules that prohibited the throttling and blocking of content. It will also ban US states from imposing their own net neutrality rules in place of federal regulations.

The order will go before Congress on 14 December for a pivotal vote.

“For almost 20 years, the internet thrived under the light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress,” Pai said.

“This bipartisan framework led the private sector to invest $1.5trn building communications networks throughout the United States. And it gave us an internet economy that became the envy of the world.

“But, in 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the internet. That decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks, and deterred innovation.”

Pai’s moves, which will raise the ire of tech companies and consumer groups, will spark furious debate in the US.

Activists have flooded legislators with more than 250,000 calls condemning Pai’s plans. Commentator John Oliver previously rowed in on the debate by encouraging TV viewers to comment on the proposals. This led to the crashing of FCC servers as Oliver helpfully linked concerned citizens with a previously hard-to-find comments page usong the catchy URL

According to the British comedian, Pai’s suggestion that ISPs could simply promise not to obstruct or slow consumer access to websites “would make net neutrality as binding as a proposal on The Bachelor”.

Oliver added that the Trump administration’s decision to roll back the safeguards against net neutrality is no big shock, and he wouldn’t be surprised if “Trump purposely killed every turkey that Obama ever pardoned”.

Companies such as Netflix and Google have also vehemently opposed plans to dismantle net neutrality.

The strife of Pai

Whatever debate ensues, Pai has steely determination when it comes to dismantling Obama’s net neutrality policy.

“As a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission [FTC] will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Notably, my proposal will put the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy,” Pai said.

“Speaking of transparency, when the prior FCC adopted President Obama’s heavy-handed internet regulations, it refused to let the American people see that plan until weeks after the FCC’s vote. This time, it’ll be different. Specifically, I will publicly release my proposal to restore internet freedom tomorrow – more than three weeks before the commission’s December 14 vote.

“Working with my colleagues, I look forward to returning to the light-touch, market-based framework that unleashed the digital revolution and benefited consumers here and around the world,” said the FCC chair.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years