The FCC this week began the process of reversing the previous administration’s decision to impose heavy-handed Title II authority over internet service providers. Prior to the commission’s 2-1 vote approving a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) at the agency’s Open Meeting on Thursday, Chairman Ajit Pai said, “Today, we propose to repeal utility-style regulation of the internet. We propose to return to the Clinton-era light-touch framework that has proven to be successful. And we propose to put technologists and engineers, rather than lawyers and accountants, at the center of the online world.”
“The internet wasn’t broken in 2015,” Pai added. However, he noted that since the FCC’s unilateral assertion of authority under Title II of the Communications Act, investments by broadband providers had noticeably slowed. “Today’s Notice is the start of a new chapter in the public discussion about how we can best maintain a free and open internet while making sure that ISPs have strong incentives to bring next-generation networks and services to all Americans,” the chairman said.
Highlighting the partisan divide, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn (D) vigorously dissented. “While the majority engages in flowery rhetoric, about light-touch regulation and so on, the endgame appears to be no-touch regulation and a wholescale destruction of the FCC’s public interest authority in the 21st century,” she said.
Some hope for a lasting, bipartisan solution to come from Congress. In a speech on the Senate Floor shortly before the FCC vote, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) said:
While the FCC’s 2015 order may soon be consigned to the dustbin of history, the last few months have shown that political winds can and often do shift suddenly. To my colleagues in both the majority and minority, the only way to truly provide legal and political certainty for open internet protections is for Congress to pass bipartisan legislation. We need a statute offering clear and enduring rules that balance innovation and investment throughout the entire internet ecosystem. In crafting rules, we need to listen to the concerns of all Americans who support an open internet but who may have differing opinions about the greatest threats to online freedom. For some Americans, the greatest concern is meddling by internet service providers, and for others it is unelected bureaucrats attempting to “overprotect” Americans from products and services they actually like.
Thune concluded, “Innovation and job creation should no longer take a backseat to partisan point-scoring. It is time for Congress to finally settle this matter.”
For more information about Thursday’s internet freedom vote, as well as actions to move toward jettisoning the “main studio” rule for broadcasters and to invite public comment on the usefulness or harm of other media regulations, see here.
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: May 19, 2017