FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced this week that he would be initiating a process aimed at upending the previous administration’s internet power grab. He has prepared a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) “to reverse the mistake of Title II and return to the light-touch regulatory framework” that had, until two years ago, been the context in which innovation, investment, and freedom flourished online.
Speaking at an event sponsored by FreedomWorks and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council at the Newseum in Washington, Pai recounted the positive path on which the internet began in our country under presidential administrations of both parties. He then noted the terrible turn the agency took under former Chairman Tom Wheeler when it imposed heavy-handed Title II common carrier authority on broadband providers. Pai explained:
Why? Unfortunately, the answer has nothing to do with the law or the facts. Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed. And there wasn’t a rash of internet service providers blocking customers from accessing the content, applications, or services of their choice. No, it was all about politics. Days after a disappointing 2014 midterm election, and in order to energize a dispirited base, the White House released an extraordinary YouTube video instructing the FCC to implement Title II regulations. This was a transparent attempt to compromise the agency’s independence. And it worked.
As he explained the importance of his new proposal, Pai focused on free speech. Specifically highlighting remarks by a co-founder of an organization named “Free Press,” which has been a vocal proponent of the expansion of Title II regulation to internet service providers, Pai said that such statements are “all too typical of a larger movement in our country today that is fundamentally hostile to free speech.” As examples, he noted viewpoint censorship online, as well as hostility to speech on university campuses and in political debate. Pai added, “And where do the people who are driving this closing of the American mind stand on greater government regulation of the internet? They don’t just favor it; they strongly demand it.”
Chairman Pai’s proposal is slated to be considered at the commission’s May Open Meeting. That the first step is an NPRM, rather than a simple declaratory repeal, is also significant. Unlike the closed process that angered many when the 2015 “Open Internet” order was adopted on partisan lines, Pai wants “an open and transparent process in which every American can share his or her views.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: April 28, 2017