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FCC chairman confirms net neutrality repeal plan

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Tuesday he’s shared with his fellow commissioners his plan to fully dismantle the Obama-era net neutrality regulations, saying “the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet.”

As POLITICO reported Monday, Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” order would jettison rules that bar internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking or slowing web traffic or creating so-called paid internet fast lanes. It would also eliminate the legal foundation of the rules the FCC’s Democratic majority adopted in 2015.

“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,” Pai said.

The announcement marks Pai’s latest effort to take apart regulations approved by the Obama-era FCC. Pai, a longtime GOP commissioner, assumed the helm of the FCC in January after President Trump nominated him as chairman. His effort to repeal the net neutrality rules has drawn a record 22 million public comments to the agency, and most FCC observers expect the issue to end up back in court.

Pai’s approach would require internet providers to be transparent about their practices, with the Federal Trade Commission policing them for anti-competitive behavior. He also detailed his plan in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal.

The chairman, who has criticized the 2015 rules as depressing investment in building internet networks and innovation, said he will make his draft order publicly available Wednesday, three weeks before the now GOP-majority commission votes on it at a Dec. 14 meeting.

The FCC’s two Democrats, Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn, quickly blasted Pai’s plans. Rosenworcel called it “ridiculous and offensive” to Americans while Clyburn said it is a giveaway to the country’s largest communications companies.

“This most unwelcome #ThanksgivingFail is simply a giveaway to the nation’s largest communications companies, at the expense of consumers and innovation,” Clyburn said in a statement. “It is not only bad public policy but is legally suspect. I hope my colleagues will see the light, and put these drafts where they belong: in the trash heap.”

Congressional Democrats, including Rep. Frank Pallone and Sens. Ron Wyden, Ed Markey and Brian Schatz, all slammed the announcement, with Markey calling for a “firestorm of opposition” to Pai’s plan.

Republican lawmakers including Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Greg Walden applauded Pai’s move and repeated their commitment to codifying net neutrality rules in legislation — something Democrats have so far resisted, fearing their GOP colleagues want to enshrine weaker regulations than what the FCC passed.

“While I support Chairman Pai’s efforts as an improvement, I still strongly believe the only way to create long term certainty for the internet ecosystem is for Congress to pass a bipartisan law,” Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune said in a statement.

One of the tech industry’s leading trade groups said the FCC plan “defies the will of millions of Americans.”

“Consumers have little choice in their ISP, and service providers should not be allowed to use this gatekeeper position at the point of connection to discriminate against websites and apps,” said Michael Beckerman, head of the Internet Association, which represents companies like Google, Amazon and Facebook.

But telecom giants cheered Pai’s action. Joan Marsh, an AT&T executive vice president, said the order “will bring to an end this country’s brief and ill-conceived experiment with heavy-handed regulation of the internet.”

Ashley Gold contributed to this report.

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