As promised last month by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC adopted a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NRPM) yesterday which seeks to restore the regulatory status quo that was in place before the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet order. The NPRM proposes to roll back Title II classification—and with it, common carrier regulation—of broadband Internet service providers (ISPs). Describing the NPRM as “the first step toward restoring Internet freedom and promoting infrastructure investment,” the FCC announced in a press release that it hopes to “return to the bipartisan framework that preserved a flourishing free and open Internet for almost 20 years.”

To accomplish that goal, the NPRM would reverse the FCC’s 2015 decision to reclassify broadband Internet access services as Title II telecommunications services “and return to the longstanding, successful light-touch framework under Title I of the Communications Act.” The item would also reclassify mobile broadband Internet access services as private mobile services in a move that the FCC expects will “substantially benefit consumers and the marketplace.” Stakeholder comment is requested on these proposals and on the proposed elimination of the “Internet conduct” standard prescribed by the 2015 Open Internet order. Input is also sought on whether bright line rules established by the 2015 Order, which prohibit ISPs from blocking or throttling the transmission of lawful web traffic and engaging in paid prioritization practices, should be retained, modified, or eliminated.

Citing recent studies demonstrating a 5.6% reduction in domestic capital investment by large ISPs between 2014 and 2016, Pai proclaimed, “the evidence so far strongly suggests this is the right way to go.” Pai also promised that the FCC will publish a draft of the final rules well in advance of a vote and will follow the facts “wherever they take us.” However, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn—the FCC’s sole Democrat—warned in a dissenting statement that the rule changes proposed in the NPRM “would deeply damage the ability of the FCC to be a champion of consumers and competition in the 21st century.” 

At its May open meeting yesterday, the FCC also voted to (1) launch a sweeping review of its media regulations that apply to broadcasters, cable operators and direct broadcast satellite providers, and (2) initiate proceedings on a plan to eliminate the 70-year-old broadcast main studio rule, which requires every AM, FM and television broadcast station to operate a main studio facility in or near its local community of license. Issuing a public notice that invites comment on the continued applicability of the media rules, many of which are “decades old,” the FCC said it hopes to “reduce regulations that can stand in the way of competition, innovation and investment.” In its proposal to eliminate the main studio rule, the FCC explained that such facilities are no longer needed in the community of license, owing to the transition to online public file formats and the emergence of web-based and other modern communications capabilities that enable viewers to interact directly with broadcasters.