FCC Chairman Ajit Pai intends to launch his reworking of the Obama-era net neutrality rules, according to sources familiar with the plan, setting up a showdown on an issue that has long pitted tech companies against internet providers.
In a speech in Washington on Wednesday, Pai plans to discuss his vision for net neutrality — keeping open internet principles but getting rid of the utility-style regulatory framework approved by the agency’s previous Democratic majority. And he could circulate a notice of proposed rulemaking on the plan to his fellow commissioners on Thursday, sources said. That would set up a vote on the issue at the FCC’s May 18 meeting. One industry source said the chairman’s goal is to finish the proceeding by this fall.
The FCC’s net neutrality rules generally require that internet service providers treat web traffic equally and prohibit providers from blocking or slowing traffic to certain websites.
Pai’s net neutrality plan will land in the midst of a maelstrom of a week as Congress buckles in to try to keep the federal government from shutting down while also wrangles over tax reform and repealing Obamacare.
Some sources say his approach this week could simply be to propose doing away with the FCC’s regulatory classification of internet service providers and solicit comments on how the agency can keep the net neutrality principles without that classification.
People familiar with Pai’s plans spoke anonymously to discuss his actions before they are announced.
Pai has said he supports net neutrality principles, but opposes the regulatory underpinnings of the 2015 Open Internet Order, which gave the FCC greater authority to police the actions of broadband providers by using utility-style regulation. Supporters say the framework is necessary for the agency to have sufficient oversight over internet service providers, but Pai and telecom industry critics describe it as a heavy-handed power grab that has deterred investment.
Just two years ago, the FCC’s then-Democratic majority voted along party lines to approve the Open Internet rules after a year of noisy debate that sparked millions of public comments to the agency. The rules, backed by President Barack Obama, later survived a legal challenge from AT&T and telecom trade groups when the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the order last June in a 2-1 decision.
It’s not clear how Pai will preserve net neutrality rules of not blocking or slowing web traffic while doing away with the regulatory structure the FCC used to support the rules.
Earlier this month, he floated a proposal in a meeting with telecom trade groups that would see the agency cede internet oversight to the Federal Trade Commission, with broadband providers voluntarily committing to adhere to net neutrality principles.
For FCC watchers, Pai’s moves on net neutrality will not come as a surprise. Pai, who voted against the 2015 rules as a Republican commissioner, has already pulled back agency actions on zero-rating — allowing internet providers to favor some streaming video or other web content — and data security that were built off of the net neutrality rules.
Changing net neutrality to his liking is the latest regulatory rollback for Pai, who has wasted no time talking with companies and lawmakers to advance his agenda at the FCC.
His stab at new net neutrality rules will pit powerful interests against other powerful interests given that tech companies such as Google and Netflix have supported the rules now in place while internet providers like Comcast and AT&T are more likely to get behind Pai’s changes.
Left-leaning consumer groups and Democrats have already promised a fierce fight to preserve the existing framework.
In recent weeks, Pai has been meeting with telecom trade groups and tech industry executives to discuss the future of net neutrality. He said he solicited ideas on online consumer protections during a Silicon Valley trip last week that included conversations with Facebook, Cisco, Intel and Oracle executives.
Asked for comment, the FCC confirmed Pai is giving a speech Wednesday but declined to provide details.
Ashley Gold and Li Zhou contributed to this report.
Powered by WPeMatico