The Federal Communications Commission is moving forward with Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to dismantle the Obama-era net neutrality rules.
The agency will vote on December 14 on Pai's proposal to reclassify broadband as an "information" service and to repeal common-carrier regulations that ban providers from blocking or throttling traffic and charging higher fees for prioritized delivery. The proposal reverses the FCC's 2015 net neutrality order, which classified broadband access as a utility service.
The proposal also prohibits states or cities from enacting or enforcing their own broadband regulations. The complete draft of the proposed order will be available Wednesday. The Republican-controlled agency is expected to approve Pai's proposal.
Pai contends in an op-ed published Tuesday that the current regulations have "failed consumers and businesses alike." He says one internet service provider held off on building out a WiFi network due to uncertainty over regulatory approvals, and that 19 municipal providers reported delaying new features due to fears over possible complaints and enforcement actions.
But net neutrality advocates say the rule repeal will benefit broadband providers at the expense of consumers and small entrepreneurs.
"The assertion that the FCC proposal is somehow pro-consumer is a sham that doesn’t pass the straight-face test," former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler writes. "The only word that can describe the Trump FCC’s behavior is shameful. They have given those they are supposed to regulate everything they want."
The agency's two Democrats oppose Pai's plan.
"The FCC majority is about to deliver a cornucopia full of rotten fruit, stale grains, and wilted flowers topped off with a plate full of burnt turkey," Commissioner Mignon Clyburn stated Tuesday.
Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel added that the proposal "hands broadband providers the power to decide what voices to amplify, which sites we can visit, what
connections we can make, and what communities we create."
Comcast, which was caught throttling peer-to-peer traffic in 2007, said Tuesday it will follow some net neutrality principles even after the rules are repealed. "Comcast does not and will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content," president and CEO Dave Watson stated Tuesday. "We will continue to make sure that our policies are clear for consumers and we will not change our commitment to these principles."
The FTC currently lacks jurisdiction over broadband providers, due to their classification as common carriers. But even if the net neutrality rules are repealed, the FTC may still lack authority to police Internet service providers; last year, the influential 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the FTC couldn't prosecute AT&T, due to the company's history of providing telephone service.
FTC Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen stated Tuesday that the FTC "stands ready to protect broadband subscribers from anticompetitive, unfair, or deceptive acts and practices."
Even if the FCC revokes the net neutrality rules, the agency may not have the last word on the topic. The group Free Press has already vowed to sue to preserve broadband's classification as a utility service.