FCC Prepares for Vote on Undoing Net-Neutrality Takeover

Published May 17, 2017

Preparing for a May 18 vote on a proposed rule undoing former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Tom Wheeler’s 2015 “net neutrality” rules, FCC issued a memorandum on May 11 announcing the conclusion of the proposal’s public commenting period.

Comments received from the public between May 12 and May 18 will be “associated with, but not made a part of, the record in the proceeding,” the memorandum stated, “to provide FCC decision-makers with a period of repose during which they can reflect on the upcoming items.”

In April, FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced the proposed rule that would undo Wheeler’s rule, claiming FCC authority under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to reclassify internet service providers as common carriers, such as railroads or electric utility companies.

Shifting Definitions

Evan Swarztrauber, communications director for TechFreedom, says activists have redefined net neutrality.

“The definition of net neutrality has changed over the years, and that’s one of the reasons we’re in this mess,” Swarztrauber said. “The original definition was uncontroversial and bipartisan. It’s the kind of stuff net neutrality used to be about: People should be able to access any lawful content online, they should be able to connect their devices to the connection in their home, and they should be able to receive meaningful information about their service plan—essentially, transparency.

“It was really about protecting consumers, which we absolutely should be concerned with,” Swarztrauber said.

Return to Net Normalcy

Swarztrauber says the net-neutrality debate is focused on determining the proper role of government.

“I think it’s fair to say that net neutrality is not really what the debate is about,” Swarztrauber said. “It’s the FCC’s power over the internet, and that debate has been such a big argument between Republicans and Democrats and between internet providers and startups. [Pai is] actually just going to put us back to where we were a few years ago, in June 2015.”

Swarztrauber says the “net neutrality” fight is essentially a proxy war between FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, another government agency.

“Before we had Title II, the Federal Trade Commission regulated broadband providers, both in terms of privacy and transparency,” Swarztrauber said. “It’s long past due that Democrats and Republicans come to the table and resolve this issue. It is the job of our elected representatives to solve these big policy disagreements.”

Permission for Progress?

Steven Titch, a telecommunications policy advisor for The Heartland Institute, which publishes Budget & Tax News, says FCC’s net-neutrality rules have stifled digital innovation.

“What the FCC under Wheeler did is create a kind of ‘Mother, may I?’ regime, which basically said prioritization [of data] would be a network-neutrality violation,” Titch said. “He kind of wavered by saying the FCC will make decisions on a case-by-case basis. He made an exception for ‘reasonable network management,’ although he declined to define exactly what that was.

“He essentially made the FCC an arbiter of what network neutrality would be defined as on an ad hoc basis,” Titch said.