FCC Chair Unveils Plan To Roll Back 'Political' Net Neutrality Rules

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai today launched the process to repeal the 2015 net neutrality rules, which he claimed were hindering broadband deployment.

Speaking at the Newseum, Pai argued that the regulations depressed capital investment in broadband networks, which ultimately "kept countless consumers from getting better Internet access or getting access."

The net neutrality rules reclassified broadband as a utility service and imposed some common carrier rules on Internet service providers. The regulations include three "bright-line" prohibitions -- a ban on throttling or blocking content and on charging companies higher fees for prioritized delivery. The rules also include a "general conduct" standard that broadly prohibits Internet service providers from unreasonably impeding the ability of consumers and content providers to reach each other.

Pai said Wednesday that he will propose repealing the decision to classify broadband providers as common carriers, as well as the general conduct standard. He also will propose seeking comment on the best way to enforce the "bright-line" prohibitions.

Pai intends to issue the complete text of the proposal by Thursday. He said the agency will vote during its May 18 meeting on whether to move forward by seeking comments from the public.

The FCC Chairman characterized the net neutrality rules as political, arguing that they resulted from former President Barack Obama's November 2014 public statement urging the agency to reclassify broadband as a "Title II" utility service.

"Nothing about the Internet was broken in 2015. Nothing about the law had changed," Pai said Wednesday afternoon in a speech delivered at the Newseum. "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."

In fact, earlier in 2014, a federal appellate court invalidated the FCC's prior attempt to prohibit carriers from blocking or degrading content. That court ruled that the FCC had no authority to impose those types of regulations on companies without first classifying them as utility services.

Despite Pai's statement that the rules spurred a drop in capital investment, others have said that broadband investment has grown in the last two years. The advocacy group Free Press, which compiled statistics from stock reports, recently said that total capital expenditure spending by 13 carriers (including Comcast, Charter, AT&T and Verizon) increased in the two years following passage of the net neutrality rules.

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