Yesterday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai began circulating a draft order among his fellow commissioners that would repeal the FCC’s classification of broadband Internet access service (BIAS) as a Title II telecommunications service and thereby restore what Pai described as the “light touch regulatory approach” to the Internet that the FCC established two decades ago during the Clinton Administration.
Later today, the FCC is expected to make the draft order available to the public in advance of a vote which is scheduled to take place at the FCC’s next monthly open meeting on December 14. Pai also confirmed that the FCC will launch rulemaking proceedings on December 14 through which stakeholders will be asked to comment on potential changes to the FCC’s current 39% cap on national TV station ownership and on the retention the UHF discount which was reinstated by the FCC earlier this year.
Capping a rulemaking process which began last May, adoption of the draft order would restore the FCC’s long-standing classification of BIAS as a Title I information service exempt from common carrier and other regulations that apply to providers of wireline telephone service. The order would also roll back prohibitions against throttling, paid prioritization and other net neutrality regulations which had been promulgated by the FCC, thereby putting the Federal Trade Commission—in the words of Pai--“back on the beat to protect consumers online.” In a press statement announcing the draft order, Pai termed the FCC’s decision in 2015 to subject BIAS to Title II regulation as “a mistake” which has “depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks and deterred innovation.” Emphasizing that the draft order “would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades,” Pai explained that the new rules “would simply require Internet providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
Observers expect that the order will be adopted by the FCC along partisan lines, with Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel dissenting. While news of the draft order was welcomed by cable operators, wireline phone service carriers and other major BIAS providers, the announcement was decried by online firms, small ISPs and public interest advocates that believe the order will lead to higher rates for broadband service, restricted web access and fewer choices for consumers. As Clyburn warned that enactment of the draft order “would dismantle net neutrality as we know it,” Rosenworcel charged that the order “hands broadband providers the power to decide what voices to amplify, which sites we can visit, what connections we can make, and what communities we create.” Proclaiming his company’s belief, however, “that users should be able to access the Internet when, where and how they chose,” a Verizon spokesman endorsed the FCC’s draft framework as one which “protects consumers’ access to the open Internet without forcing them to bear the heavy costs from unnecessary regulation that chases away investment and chills innovation.”