Fate of Net Neutrality Remains Unclear Under Pai
The Federal Communications Commission unveiled a plan this week that aims to disassemble Obama-era net-neutrality rules. The regulatory laws, passed in 2015 under President Obama, prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from speeding up or slowing down internet activity and prohibit companies like Verizon and Comcast from creating multi-tiered memberships that would require customers to pay for specific content.
The recent revelation is just the beginning of FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s campaign “to restore internet freedom.” Pai has been a vocal critic of the government’s role in regulating internet activity. He says his deregulation agenda would benefit ISPs and consumers.
The chairman states that by freeing the current restrictions set on ISPs, consumers “can buy the service plan that’s best for them.” He argues that by giving content providers more flexibility, consumers wouldn’t be bound to contracts. Pai also suggests that deregulation would allow the telecom and internet industries to become more innovative with technology, arguing that “governing ISPs discourages investment.”
Large corporations largely support Pai’s more free-market friendly approach to the internet. Joan Marsh, a vice president at AT&T, said that the plan “emphasizes private investment and innovation over lumbering government intervention.”
Since Tuesday’s release on the new FCC plans, a Morning Consult and Politico poll showed that net neutrality was losing support with Pai at the helm of the FCC. The poll illustrated an 8 point drop in support from last June. Without a drastic difference, among registered voters, 53% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats support net neutrality regulations.
While politicians among party mostly split among party lines on the issue, Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine) split from the GOP to address the impact of scraping net neutrality. She said, “internet providers must not manage their system in an anti-competitive way that limits consumers’ choices.”
The chairman’s agenda is largely critiqued among tech-industry giants like Facebook, who are fighting to maintain the internet’s free and open status. Erin Egan, a vice president at Facebook, expressed her discontent. She said, “we are disappointed that the proposal announced today by the FCC fails to maintain strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the internet remains open for everyone.”
As Pai continues to receive criticism while attempting to move his agenda forward, the fate of net neutrality remains uncertain. The commission, comprised of five members, currently holds a 3-2 Republican majority, so it’s likely that Pai will be successful in fulfilling his goal of deconstructing Obama-era regulations.