WASHINGTON – As the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) vote on net neutrality nears, insiders on both sides of the controversial topic show no signs of backing away from debate.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai believes the commission will overturn Obama-era regulations that equalized access to the internet and prevented broadband providers from favoring their own apps and services with a Dec. 14 vote.
Those opposed to repealing the rules – primarily consumer interest groups, congressional Democrats, and internet-based companies including Facebook and Netflix – say consumers and business alike would suffer.
Christian Dawson, executive director of i2Coalition, which includes Amazon and Google, told USA Today that repealing net neutrality “will negatively impact small- and medium-sized internet business, and has the potential to decrease jobs and economic growth system-wide.”
Dawson and others say the FCC’s move will allow companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to charge internet companies for speedier access to consumers and to block outside services they don’t like. The change also axes a host of consumer protections, including privacy requirements and rules barring unfair practices that gave consumers an avenue to pursue complaints about price gouging.
Pai says his plan eliminates unnecessary regulation, but many worry cable and wireless companies will gain too much power at the expense of ordinary citizens.
Gigi Sohn, a former adviser to Tom Wheeler, the Obama-era FCC chairman who enacted the net neutrality rules told The Washington Post, “It would be a radical departure from what previous (FCC) chairs, of both parties, have done. It would leave consumers and competition completely unprotected.”
Proponents tout the FCC’s plan as a tempered form of net neutrality. ”This proposal is not the end of net-neutrality rules,” said David Cohen, Comcast’s chief diversity officer and a senior executive vice president, in a statement.
The new rules would require internet service providers (ISPs) to disclose any blocking or prioritization of its own content or from a partner. The 2015 rules prohibited blocking content or giving preference. States are also prohibited from enacting their own laws that would conflict with the FCC regulations.
This FCC transparency requirement and the re-establishment of the Federal Trade Commission to oversee broadband services would provide “the authority to take action against any (provider) which does not make its open internet practices clearly known to consumers and, if needed, enforce against any anti-competitive or deceptive practices,” Cohen said.
Still, some say if net neutrality is overturned, lawsuits will follow and Congress may act. Craig Moffett and Michael Nathanson of New York tech research firm MoffettNathanson said in a research note that passage of the new rules will create “a crisis that Congress would feel compelled to address.”
The result could be a bipartisan bill, they say, adding, “These changes will likely be so immensely unpopular that it would be shocking if they are allowed to stand for long.”