In its monthly open meeting today, the Federal Communications Commission adopted a notice of proposed rulemaking, the first step in Chairman Ajit Pai’s attempt to deregulate the internet and give greater control to internet-service providers. The three commissioners voted two to one along party lines.
Pai’s argument against the 2015 order that classified ISPs as utility providers under Title II is that the FCC is the wrong government body for ensuring fair practices. He’d much rather punt regulation over to the Federal Trade Commission, which enforces violations through lawsuits, or have Congress pass legislation enshrining net neutrality in law. During the meeting, Democratic commissioner Mignon Clyburn pushed back against Pai’s legal gymnastics, saying that they “would deeply damage the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers and competition.”
The FCC now begins a months-long process of deliberation over the Open Internet Order, and we should expect plenty of fervent campaigning from both stances. On one side is the telecom industry, which would like a green light to favor their own services, or ones that pay a premium, over standard web traffic. On the other side is basically everyone else, from individual internet users and small businesses all the way up to giants like Google and Facebook, which rely on net-neutrality principles to operate, and to cultivate small start-ups that might yield important technological innovations.
If there’s anything hopeful about this whole situation, it’s that the widespread outcry over internet freedom might sink Chairman Pai’s attempts completely. As Vice points out, there are a number of credible legal challenges that can be leveled against the commission, rooted in laws prohibiting “capricious” rulemaking. On top of that, the usually five-member body currently only has three, and the empty seats will likely be unfilled for a while (the Trump admin is kinda busy). Should Clyburn leave at the end of June, the body will lack a quorum to vote on the rollback. Nevertheless, the body forges on.