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FCC to roll back net neutrality rules

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is due to roll back net neutrality rules in a major policy shift that looks set to impact on the way internet traffic is prioritised by ISPs.

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai

In a statement issued yesterday, FCC chairman Ajit Pai criticised the Obama administration’s “heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the internet”, describing these net neutrality rules as a “mistake” that has depressed investment and deterred innovation.

“Today, I have shared with my colleagues a draft order that would abandon this failed approach and return to the longstanding consensus that served consumers well for decades,” said Pai.

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet. Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service 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.”

The move was backed by Comcast, which said in a statement that Pai’s proposals are a “welcome change from previous, closed-door approaches that hid controversial rulemaking orders and closed off public comment”.

However, the Internet Association, a trade body that represents internet giants including Netflix, Amazon, Google and Facebook, described Pai’s intervention as “the end of net neutrality as we know it” and said it “defies the will of millions of Americans who support the 2015 Open Internet Order.”

“The 2015 Order created bright-line, enforceable net neutrality protections that guarantee consumers access to the entire internet and preserve competition online,” said Internet Association president and CEO Michael Beckerman. “This proposal fails to achieve any of these objectives”.

Pai’s proposals are due to be voted on at the FCC’s open meeting on December 14.

Previous FCC chair Tom Wheeler oversaw the introduction of the US’s existing net neutrality rules in 2015, which were designed to prevent practices that the FCC described as “harmful to internet openess”, such as blocking, throttling, and paid prioritisation of the internet.

The FCC also implemented a strong standard of conduct designed to prevent the deployment of new practices that would harm internet openness, along with transparency rules to ensure that consumers are fully informed as to whether the services they purchase are delivering what they expect.

Pai was an outspoken critic of the previous administration’s net neutrality rules before his appointment as chairman of the FCC by President Trump earlier this year.

After the FCC adopted strong net neutrality rules in 2015, Pai condemned the commission’s “overreach” and accused it of “flip-flopping” on the issue “because President Obama told it to do so”.