Here we go again. For the fourth time in the past decade, the Federal Communications Commission is proposing a dramatic change in the way it treats the Internet — this time, suggesting a near-complete abdication of its efforts to guard consumers against meddling by the companies that sell them Internet access.
Pushed by its new Republican majority, the commission formally proposed Thursday to repeal the “net neutrality” rules the previous Democratic majority adopted in 2015, replacing them with … nothing specific, and possibly nothing at all. Although Chairman Ajit Pai says he believes in an open Internet, he sees no real threat from broadband providers such as Comcast, AT&T and Charter, and thus no real need to regulate.
A host of websites, online services, developers and start-ups vehemently disagree, and for good reason. In far too many communities, only one or two broadband providers offer high-speed Internet access to homes. In the absence of competition, these companies have both the opportunity and the incentive to become Internet gatekeepers, charging websites, services and app developers for the privilege of reaching their customers’ devices. . .
Pai and fellow Republican Commissioner Michael O’Rielly say the 2015 net neutrality rules, which classified broadband providers as utilities subject to strict regulation, led those companies to reduce investment in their networks. As a consequence, they argue, the companies haven’t improved their networks or innovated as much as they should have, nor have they extended their networks to more people who don’t have broadband. . .
The commission’s proposal pays far less attention to the enormous and growing investments made by websites, services and developers — investments that could be threatened if broadband providers are allowed to pick winners and losers online. Besides, there’s a simple explanation for any lag in investment and innovation by broadband providers: the lack of competition. For proof, just compare what’s happening in wired broadband networks with the relentless innovation in mobile phone networks, where companies are spending billions on upgrades and airwaves. . .
The proposal now faces several months of public comment and scrutiny, as well as a cost-benefit analysis by the FCC. And if Pai’s vision carries the day, proponents of the current rules are certain to sue, arguing that nothing that has happened over the last two years justifies the change.
There’s only one sure way to stop this regulatory carousel, and that’s for Congress to grant the FCC clear authority to protect Internet users from interference by broadband providers. . . .
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