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Report: FCC chair plans net neutrality reversal

Ajit Pai

Ajit Pai

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is reportedly drawn up plans to reverse net neutrality rules, in favour of letting ISPs in the US voluntarily agree to maintain an open internet.

According to a Reuters report, Pai met with major telecoms trade groups to discuss the preliminary plan this week, with a view to rolling back the tough net neutrality laws brought in by the Obama administration.

According to the report, which cites three people briefed in the meeting, Pai wants internet providers to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to the web, and to commit to this in writing and include it in their terms of service.

The plan to overturn the existing net neutrality rules could be unveiled later this month and face a vote in May or June, according to Reuters.

In February 2015 the FCC reclassified broadband providers as telecommunication services under Title II of the US Federal Communications Act, subjecting them to stronger regulation.

However, the FCC’s Open Internet Order modified the meaning of that classification to avoid “utility-style burdensome regulation that would harm investment,” then-FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said at the time.

The rules were designed to ban paid prioritisation so that “’fast lanes’ will not divide the internet into ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’,” added Wheeler.

At the time Pai condemned the FCC’s “overreach” and compared the US experience of broadband favourably to Europe, “where broadband is generally regulated as a public utility” and fewer people have access to high-speed services.

Fast forward to March this year, Pai, in his new role as FCC chair, used a speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona to promise a return to a “light-touch approach to regulation”, claiming the FCC has made clear mistakes in the past two years.

Pai – who was appointed by Trump to lead the US media and telecoms regulator in late January – said that the US is now in the process of returning to the style of regulation that produced “tremendous innovation and investment” throughout the internet ecosystem.

“It is evident that the FCC made a mistake,” he said in reference to the 2015 rules. “Our new approach injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market and uncertainty is the enemy of growth.”

Republican Pai has been an FCC commissioner since 2012.