Jan 31, 2017

New FCC chair lays down line on net neutrality

"My position is pretty simple: I favor a free and open internet, and I oppose Title II — and that's pretty much all I can say about that topic." — FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at his first press conference

Decoded:

  • Pai specifically supports four principles advanced by former Republican Chairman Michael Powell, which include, as Pai noted in his 2015 dissent, "freedom to access lawful content, the freedom to use applications, the freedom to attach personal devices to the network, and the freedom to obtain service plan information." He's said he wants to protect those values.
  • He is opposed, however, to grounding any rules to protect net neutrality in treating broadband like a utility.

The rub: The new chairman declined to say how he would revisit the 2015 net neutrality rules beloved by consumer activists and opposed by major internet service providers. He wouldn't comment on whether the agency would continue to enforce the rules' prohibitions on blocking, throttling and fast lanes — but did note Republican plans not to apply certain parts of the order to smaller internet providers.

The bottom line: This debate is just getting started. The battle over net neutrality is likely to involve public commenters on both sides of the issue and be closely watched in both the tech and telecom sectors. The most significant fight will be over the so-called "Title II" approach taken by former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, which expanded the agency's regulatory power over broadband providers.

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