FCC, led by Chairman Ajit Pai, repeals net neutrality protections

The 3-2 vote is along party lines with the Republican majority ruling to end the open internet

By Geeta Goindi

Washington, DC, December 14, 2017 – In a controversial move, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Chairman Ajit Varadaraj Pai, has voted to repeal Obama-era net neutrality protections. As expected, the 3-2 vote was on a partisan basis with the Republican majority at the Commission voting in favor of dismantling the 2015 rules that guarantee equal access to the internet.

A flurry of legal actions are expected to follow with the Attorney General of New York, Free Press, Public Knowledge, Common Cause, Netflix, among scores of companies, organizations, public interest groups, agencies, elected officials, threatening to file lawsuits.

Net neutrality has been described as the first amendment of the internet whereby internet service providers treat everyone’s data equally. Consumers and companies alike support an open internet, fearing that deregulation will allow telecom and cable giants to control the flow of content and enable them to charge more for faster access.

Not so Pai, 44, a Republican lawyer and the first ever Indian-American to head the Commission.

At an FCC hearing today, he defended his decision against what he called “heavy-handed government regulation” which curbs “development of the Internet”. He criticized the rules (Title II) for impeding innovation and deterring infrastructure investment.

Interestingly, Pai was appointed as a Commissioner at the FCC by former President Barack Obama, in May 2012, at the recommendation of Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. He was confirmed unanimously by the Senate and sworn in for a five-year term. President Donald Trump elevated him to head the agency and in March re-nominated him to serve a second five-year term.

Like Trump, Pai is a fierce and vocal critic of regulations adopted by the previous Democratic administration.

“The costs of Title II today may appear, at least to some, to be hidden. But, the consumers and innovators of tomorrow will pay a severe price”, he warned at the hearing.

Explaining the FCC’s action in the face of what he called “the apocalyptic rhetoric” from Title II supporters, he said, “Quite simply, we are restoring the light-touch framework that has governed the Internet for most of its existence. We’re moving from Title II to Title I”.

“Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the websites they want to visit. They will still be able to enjoy the services they want to enjoy. There will still be cops on the beat guarding a free and open Internet. This is the way things were prior to 2015, and this is the way they will be once again”, Pai affirmed.

It is unclear how this will play out now that he has scrapped the net neutrality rules which essentially create a level playing field for all Internet users.

Vehemently opposing the ruling, Democratic FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel lambasted “the corrupt process” that led to unraveling the rules. “Net neutrality is internet freedom. I support that freedom. I dissent from this rash decision to roll back net neutrality rules. I dissent from the corrupt process that has brought us to this point”, she said.

Rosenworcel bemoaned, “Unlike its predecessors, this FCC has not held a single public hearing on net neutrality. There is no shortage of people who believe Washington is not listening to their concerns, their fears, and their desires. Add this agency to the list”.

She warned that on account of the FCC’s “misguided action”, broadband providers will now get “extraordinary new power” including the ability to block websites, throttle services, censor online content, favor internet traffic of companies who pay more while consigning others to a slow and bumpy road.

In an impassioned address, Democrat Mignon Clyburn, the FCC’s longest serving Commissioner, expressed her dissent from a “fiercely-spun, legally-lightweight, consumer-harming, corporate-enabling Destroying Internet Freedom Order”. She lamented that the FCC is “abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers”.

“What saddens me the most today is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is actually abandoning you”, she said.

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