Appearing Wednesday at a Washington, D.C. event hosted by Freedom Works and the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai confirmed that the FCC will commence proceedings at its May 18 open meeting to reverse provisions of the 2015 Open Internet order that reclassified broadband Internet access services as telecommunications services subject to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act. Just before his announcement, Pai circulated a draft rulemaking proposal among his fellow FCC commissioners, proclaiming it would reverse “the mistake” of Title II classification and return the broadband market “to the light-touch regulatory framework that served our nation so well during the Clinton Administration, the Bush Administration, and the first six years of the Obama Administration.”
Pledging that the rulemaking process will be transparent and will consider all views, Pai explained that the draft document seeks comment on proposals to (1) restore Title I classification of broadband Internet access as an information service, and (2) eliminate the “Internet conduct standard” which was adopted as part of the Open Internet order and which states that broadband ISPs may not “unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage” the ability of consumers to access or use lawful content or the ability of edge providers to make such services or content available to their customers. The draft document would also solicit input on the future of “bright line rules,” adopted in 2015, that prohibit ISPs from (1) blocking lawful content, applications and services, (2) throttling, degrading or otherwise hindering the transmission of lawful web traffic, and (3) engaging in paid prioritization practices. Pai further noted that a repeal of Title II classification will “restore the FTC’s authority to police broadband providers’ privacy practices,” as he declared: “we will return to the tried-and-true approach that protected our digital privacy effectively before 2015.”
Reaction among industry officials, consumer groups and lawmakers was divided. Mirroring the sentiments of cable operators, fixed and wireline network carriers and other broadband network operators, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson welcomed Pai’s initiative “to remove this stifling regulatory cloud,” as he highlighted his company’s commitment to maintain “open Internet protections that are fair and equal to everyone.” In a joint statement, House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Walden (R-OR), Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD) and other congressional Republicans applauded Pai’s “efforts to roll back these misguided regulations” as they declared it “time for Republicans and Democrats . . . and the Internet community as a whole to come together to work toward a legislative solution.” However, as Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) lamented that the plan constitutes “a dramatic step in the wrong direction for the future of the Internet,” former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now an advisor with Common Cause, warned: “the FCC [and] Congress . . . are risking the wrath of millions of Americans.” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, the FCC’s sole remaining Democrat and a strong supporter of Title II classification, urged “everyone in favor of an open internet to speak out, and rally against rolling back consumer protections."