Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules on Track to Be Replaced

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Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the post by President Donald Trump earlier this year, is preparing to make good on Trump’s promise to discard the net neutrality rules the FCC adopted in 2015. Trump and Pai agree that the FCC rules are a textbook example of regulatory overreach and need to be changed.

Net neutrality is shorthand for a prohibition against charging customers more for faster internet backbone services. Internet service providers (ISPs) are now classified as common carriers, and as the rules now stand, every bit of data from whatever source is treated the same way and transferred at the same speed.

As the FCC unwinds the common carrier classification, Pai has suggested that enforcement be shifted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). According to The Wall Street Journal:

Mr. Pai’s plans likely would reverse that reclassification eventually, so the FTC again would have jurisdiction over the telecommunications carriers. To preserve the basic tenets of net neutrality, the plans would require broadband providers to pledge to abide by net neutrality principles such as no blocking or paid prioritization of internet traffic. That would allow the FTC to go after violators for deceptive or unfair trade practices.

Such a pledge may not be legally binding, however, so Pai also wants carriers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast to include a statement of their commitment to an “open internet” in their companies’ terms of service agreements. Such a statement would be legally binding on the providers, but on a case-by-case basis.

Furthermore, given the proclivity of businesses to include clauses in consumer contracts that substitution arbitration for judicial redress, consumers might find themselves with little actual power in the event the ISP didn’t maintain the promised “open internet.” Couple that with the near-monopoly status of internet service providers in many cities and consumers’ power is even weaker.