Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai just joined the host of critics speaking out against Chairman Tom Wheeler’s aggressive net neutrality proposal unveiled Wednesday, which seeks to reclassify and regulate the Internet as a public utility.
“Today, Chairman Wheeler announced that he will ask the FCC to adopt President Obama’s plan to regulate the Internet,” Pai said in a statement Wednesday. “I strongly oppose the president’s plan, which will raise consumers’ broadband bills, slow broadband speeds, and reduce competition. I look forward to sharing my concerns in more detail in the days to come.”
Pai was joined by lobbyists, advocacy groups and lawmakers from Washington D.C. to Silicon Valley, many of whom oppose Wheeler’s proposed net neutrality regulation, which would, among other things, regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) like telephone companies and ban them from establishing tiered lanes of Internet traffic. Such lanes would be priced based on speed and bandwidth use. (RELATED: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Finally Reveals His Net Neutrality Plan)
The Republican commissioner has been a vocal critic of the new net neutrality rules that have been in the works since last January, when a federal court shot down long-standing rules in the Telecommunications Act of 1996 allowing the FCC to regulate ISPs similar to telephone companies. At the time the court told the agency it was treating ISPs too much like common communication carriers.
In May, Wheeler held a vote to begin the process of drafting new regulatory proposals for the FCC to oversee the industry after losing its former powers to the court. Wheeler has kept the option of reclassifying ISPs as common carriers on the table ever since as a threat to keep ISPs from establishing special traffic speed pricing and prioritization. (RELATED: FCC Votes For New ‘Net Neutrality’ Internet Regulations)
“Some would like to regulate broadband providers as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act,” Pai said in May. “This turn to common-carrier regulation would scrap the Clinton-era decision to let the Internet grow and thrive free from price regulation and other obligations applicable to telephone carriers.”
Pai added that he thought former President Bill Clinton and Congress established the correct precedent with the 1996 legislation, which said U.S. policy should “preserve the vibrant and competitive free market that presently exists for the Internet… unfettered by Federal or State regulation.”
“Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a Title II public utility is an unprecedented expansion of FCC power with heavy regulation of the Internet for the first time,” Broadband for America, which lobbies lawmakers on behalf of ISPs, said in a statement Wednesday. “This proposal would stifle investment, innovation and consumer choice. Worse, the chairman’s plan could have spillover effects into the broader Internet ecosystem and threaten Silicon Valley companies that rely heavily on the Internet.”
South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee that oversees the FCC in the upper chamber, shared those sentiments.
“Chairman Wheeler’s proposal to regulate the Internet as a public utility is not about net neutrality — it is a power grab for the federal government by the chairman of a supposedly independent agency who finally succumbed to the bully tactics of political activists and the president himself,” Thune said in a statement Wednesday, recalling President Obama’s call late last year for net neutrality regulations seemingly identical to Wheeler’s. (RELATED: Obama Announces Support For Net Neutrality)
“Regulating the Internet through ill-suited and antiquated authorities that were designed for the monopoly phone era will ultimately make the Internet more rigid and less innovative,” Thune said. “The FCC’s proposal puts in play new taxes and fees for consumers, an expanded federal government role in determining the direction of future growth and technology development, and more power for Washington over the Internet at a time when there is increasing concern about governments around the globe abusing their authority over the Internet to spy on their own citizens and restrict the free flow of information.”
Consumers’ Research, an educational organization whose mission is to “increase the knowledge and understanding of issues, policies, products, and services of concern to consumers,” said the absence of such regulation is the reason the Internet was able to expand into the majority of American homes.
“Title II authority is a dramatic step to reclassify a service that has grown so far without strict government oversight,” Consumers’ Research Executive Director Joseph Colangelo told The Daily Caller. “The story of the American internet is the story of a successful marketplace in action that has grown without government mandate or regulation to be able to serve 98 percent of American homes. The Internet becomes faster every year because companies compete to serve consumers better.”
On the other side of Washington and Silicon Valley, the Computer & Communications Industry Association — which represents Internet services companies like Amazon, Google and Facebook and providers like Sprint, T-Mobile, and DISH — applauded Wheeler’s proposal.
“For businesses and startups, Chairman Wheeler’s plan to protect the Open Internet as a telecommunications service will help ensure the Internet remains a place for permission-less innovation,” CCIA president and CEO Ed Black said in a statement Wednesday. “Wheeler chose the best legal path to protect consumers’ and business’ Internet access, but it no doubt was not an easy one given the enormous political pressure from large Internet access providers not to face even light regulations. We appreciate that Wheeler stood up to this political pressure and we look forward to seeing the details.”