House Democrats are slamming Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to gut the net neutrality rules.
"The proposal simply ignores the most critical issues affecting our country today -- priorities such as free speech and democracy, small businesses, jobs and economic development, and privacy," Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and 10 other Democrats on the committee, told the FCC Friday.
The net neutrality rules passed by the FCC in 2015 classify broadband as a utility service and impose several common carrier rules on providers -- including bans on throttling and blocking, and on charging higher fees for prioritized delivery.
Pai has proposed reclassifying broadband as an information service. But if the FCC does so, the agency arguably would no longer have the authority to stop broadband providers from throttling or blocking material, or from engaging in paid prioritization.
When Pai unveiled the proposal, he argued that the 2015 rules depressed investment in broadband networks -- a conclusion disputed by other observers.
But Pallone and the other lawmakers say the proposal's focus on "the raw dollars spent on network deployment" is too narrow, given the FCC's mandate to act in the public interest.
"If we had intended network investment to be the sole measure by which the FCC determines policy, we would have specifically written that into the law," the representatives write. "We agree that the FCC does have a duty to consider the levels of broadband deployment, but it should use better measures such as how many people the networks reach and the quality of the connection."
The lawmakers also criticize other aspects of the FCC's proposal, including that it doesn't sufficiently take into account how gutting the rules will affect free speech online. "Without the protections afforded by the 2015 net neutrality rules, ISPs can choke off unpopular conversations or speed up viewpoints supported by the powerful," the filing states.
"ISPs have financial incentives to give preference to the shows they own, the websites they run, and the news they report," the lawmakers add. "Independent voices -- those outside the mainstream -- may be most at risk simply because they don’t have an affiliation with the companies that run the internet."