Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

FCC Chair Ajit Pai to Propose Sweeping Changes to Net Neutrality Rules

Well, you knew this was coming, and here it is. Cecilia Kang of the New York Times:

The chairman, Ajit Pai, said high-speed internet service should no longer be treated like a public utility with strict rules, as it is now. Instead, he said, the industry should largely be left to police itself.

The plan is Mr. Pai’s most forceful action in his race to roll back rules that govern telecommunications, cable and broadcasting companies, which he says are harmful to business. But he is certain to face a contentious battle with the consumers and tech companies that rallied around the existing rules, which are meant to prevent broadband providers like AT&T and Comcast from giving special treatment to any streaming videos, news sites and other content.

“Two years ago, I warned that we were making a serious mistake,” Mr. Pai said at the Newseum in Washington, where he laid out the plan in a speech. “It’s basic economics. The more heavily you regulate something, the less of it you’re likely to get.”

For once, I agree with Pai: yes, the more heavily you regulate the ways in which internet service providers can create a private rigged market that they control, the less of that you’re likely to get. For some reason, he sees that as a bad thing.

When I wrote yesterday about the creativity some startups might need to explore due to constraints in a more cautious investment climate, I was reminded by Dean Young of how important regulatory policy can be for the same reason. Strongly regulating ISPs can ultimately be a very good thing for consumers, as they’ll have to compete more aggressively on service quality, speed, and price, rather than distracting subscribers with a few zero-rated services like Spotify or Hulu. It’s telling that the only defence ISPs can muster against common carrier classification is that the law is old.

Rollin Bishop, the Outline:

It just depends on which part of the government picks up the fight, if any. If Pai and the FCC fail to scrub the 2015 order, Congress could attempt legislation to give the FCC clear rules on how to proceed, and if both the FCC and Congress fail, it’s possible that the trade associations that had litigated previously would do so again.

And that’s why, even with the odds stacked against them, advocates are optimistic. It’s a continuing fight, and there’s opportunity to influence policy at every step. Comment on the FCC public docket. Call representatives. Just participating in the fight at all is one of the biggest steps any one person can do. Public opposition is part of what killed the controversial Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in 2012 with grassroots organizations as well as companies like Google and Facebook opposing such a broad expansion of online copyright infringement policies.

I know there’s a lot going on in the United States, between attempts at undoing all sorts of protections and rules introduced by the previous administration, and new laws targeted at immigrants and women. I know many of you have been encouraged to call your representatives regularly. But, please, keep doing so. A phone call to your representative’s office will remind them that they should be listening to you.

Update: Karl Bode, Techdirt:

The problem Pai faces now is two-fold. One, net neutrality has broad, incredible bi-partisan support, and those consumers are certain to give him an earful during the public comment period that will begin after the May 18 vote. If Pai isn’t familiar with the concept of backlash and overreach, he may want to bone up on some history. Pai will also need to show to the courts that the market has changed dramatically enough since the FCC’s June 2016 win over ISPs to justify a massive reversal of the rules. If he can’t, his entire effort will be struck down.

As a lawyer Pai knows this, which is why I still think Pai’s playing a game of good cop, bad cop. Under this plan, Pai saber rattles for a few months about his intent to kill net neutrality, at which point the GOP shows up with some “compromise” legislation (likely this summer) that claims to codify net neutrality into law, but is worded in such a way (by the ISP lawyers that will inevitably write it) so the loophole-riddled “solution” is worse than no rules at all. If I were to guess, the legislation will come from Senator John Thune, who attempted to derail the 2015 net neutrality rules using a similar strategy.

Watch this space.