The Trump administration has just set in motion a plan to repeal virtually all of the U.S. government’s existing net neutrality rules — a move that could soon deliver a major deregulatory win to telecom/cable giants like AT&T, Charter, Comcast and Verizon. Ironically, the move comes just as another Trump administration department, the DOJ, seems intent upon delivering a massive blow to AT&T’s efforts to acquire Time Warner.
According to a statement from FCC Chair Ajit Pai, the move is intended to return the internet to the “light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress.”
“For almost twenty years, the Internet thrived under the light-touch regulatory approach established by President Clinton and a Republican Congress. This bipartisan framework led the private sector to invest $1.5 trillion building communications networks throughout the United States. And it gave us an Internet economy that became the envy of the world.”
“But in 2015, the prior FCC bowed to pressure from President Obama. On a party-line vote, it imposed heavy-handed, utility-style regulations upon the Internet. That decision was a mistake. It’s depressed investment in building and expanding broadband networks 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. 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.”
“Additionally, as a result of my proposal, the Federal Trade Commission will once again be able to police ISPs, protect consumers, and promote competition, just as it did before 2015. Notably, my proposal will put the federal government’s most experienced privacy cop, the FTC, back on the beat to protect consumers’ online privacy.”
Of course, as Recode points out, Obama’s net neutrality rules were celebrated by websites and content providers who could be subjected to throttling by telecom and cable companies who own distribution networks.
Adopted in 2015 under former President Barack Obama, the U.S. government’s current approach to net neutrality subjects the likes of AT&T, Comcast, Charter and Verizon to utility-like regulation. That legal foundation prevents them from blocking or throttling web pages, while banning content-delivery deals known as paid prioritization. And it grants the FCC wide legal range to review virtually any online practice it deems harmful to consumers.
Such strong rules always have been popular in Silicon Valley, where startups in particular fear they could not compete without tough net neutrality safeguards. But they long have drawn sharp opposition from the telecom industry, which sued the FCC in 2015 in a bid to overturn them.
Before that case could come to its conclusion, however, Trump entered the White House, ushering in a new era of Republican control at the nation’s telecom agency. And Pai, a fervent opponent of utility-like regulation of net neutrality, set about undoing the Obama-era rules almost as soon as he took over the FCC.
Pai said his full proposal will be released for public review tomorrow and will be voted on by the FCC on December 14th.
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