Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai gained an ally in the fight against his agency’s net neutrality proposal in a Wednesday op-ed, in which Pai and Federal Trade Commissioner Joshua Wright argue the plan will take FTC protection away from Internet consumers.
In a Chicago Tribune editorial, both commissioners argue that the FCC’s plan to regulate Internet service providers as public utilities is unnecessary, as the FTC already has the power to protect Internet consumers from anti-competitive and privacy-invasive practices by ISPs, and that Wheeler’s February plan — first called for by President Obama in November — would take that protection away. (RELATED: Republican FCC Commissioner Slams ‘Obama’s 332-Page Plan To Regulate The Internet’)
“Federal law already protects competition and consumers online — and the president’s plan would strip away those protections,” the two wrote. “Indeed, the Federal Trade Commission has the authority to quickly address any anti-competitive exercise of market power, protect consumer privacy, and prevent deceptive and unfair practices that harm consumers. And it uses its authority aggressively to police market power and fraud in the Internet economy.”
Under federal law the FTC would lose that ability were the FCC to reclassify ISPs as “common carrier” public utilities similar to telephone service providers — essentially the backbone of the plan called for by Obama and announced by Wheeler earlier this month. (RELATED: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Finally Reveals His Net Neutrality Plan)
The plan won’t be released to the public until after the FCC votes on it on Feb. 26, but according to Wright and Pai — who has been discussing its most controversial points in the weeks since Wheeler handed it out to his fellow commissioners — its so-called “Internet conduct” rule could jeopardize popular connection plans currently offered to consumers.
“Consider that activists promoting this rule had previously targeted neither AT&T nor Verizon with their first net-neutrality complaint but MetroPCS — an upstart competitor with a single-digit market share and not an ounce of market power,” the commissioners wrote.
“Its crime? Unlimited YouTube. MetroPCS offered a $40-per-month plan with unlimited talk, text, Web browsing and YouTube streaming. The company’s strategy was to entice customers to switch from the four national carriers or to upgrade to its newly built 4G Long Term Evolution network.”
Other plans including T-Mobile’s “Music Freedom” program — which lets customers stream unlimited music — and pre-paid voice and data plans accessible to low-income households would also fall on the plan’s “chopping block” in favor of more expensive “all-you-can-eat plans endorsed by the FCC,” according to the commissioners.
“But restricting service plan options is inherently anti-competitive and anti-consumer,” Pai and Wright said. “The inevitable results will be higher prices and less service for consumers along with an especially adverse impact on small providers and upstart competitors trying to differentiate themselves in a crowded market.”
The two repeated Pai’s previous assertions that the aggressive regulatory proposal threatens to slow the technological advancement and physical expansion of the U.S.’s Internet market and infrastructure, eliminating the need for competition and innovation between providers. (RELATED: FCC Commissioner: Obama’s Internet Plan ‘Worse Than I Imagined’)
“The great irony here is that the Internet isn’t broken, and we don’t need the president’s plan to ‘fix’ it,” the commissioners wrote. “Quite the opposite.” (RELATED: FCC Commissioner: Obama’s Internet Regs Will Turn Fast American Networks Into Slow European Networks)
Wheeler continued his own campaign advocating the plan and countering those arguments at a meeting of the National Association of Rural Utility Commissioners on Tuesday.
“‘Yet, we hear the ISP surrogates running around talking about the end of the world’ saying it’s old-fashioned monopoly utility regulation, which means the ‘end of Western civilization,'” Wheeler said according to a report in Roll Call.
Wheeler repeated his assertions that the plan would not regulate the rates charged by ISPs for service, or levy a tax against such providers to force them into opening up their networks for use by competing local providers for set prices — some of the core criticisms raised by Republican regulators, lawmakers and industry lobbyists.
“‘And so the attack is — let’s drag out this ill-informed, non-fact based statement’ that the rules would impose utility regulation and thwart the Internet’s future,” Wheeler said according to Roll Call.
“It just simply isn’t the facts,” Wheeler said.