The Trump-era Federal Communications Commission lost no time in rolling back Obama-era privacy rules that prevented internet providers from collecting and selling customer data without consent. Now that the motion repealing those rules has been signed and sealed by President Trump, the FCC’s Chairman is reportedly eyeing his next target: net neutrality.
According to Reuters sources, FCC chair Aji Pai met on Tuesday with representatives of major telecoms companies to discuss his plans to roll back net neutrality rules. Pai, an ex-Verizon lawyer, is reportedly committed to ensuring an open internet, but feels that net neutrality rules passed by the Obama administration went “too far.”
Under former FCC chair Tom Wheeler, the FCC classified internet providers as Title II utilities, or “common carriers.” Classifying ISPs as utilities allows the FCC to make rules that force ISPs to conform to net neutrality. It prevents ISPs from discriminating between different types of data going over their networks — a byte is a byte, regardless of whether it comes from Netflix or AT&T’s own video streaming service.
Proponents of net neutrality worry that without strict rules in place, ISPs will use their near-monopoly power to discriminate between different services and websites. For example, large video streaming services like Netflix could pay for preferential access to customers, meaning its videos stream faster than competitors. In turn, that would prevent competition for any startup that wants to challenge Netflix — or any other internet-based startup, for that matter.
ISPs say that the rules are overly burdensome, and that they can just pinkie-swear to uphold net neutrality instead. That’s what Pai reportedly asked for in his meeting with telecoms groups: he’ll repeal net neutrality rules, provided that telecoms companies promise really hard to be good.
Pai’s proposal to overturn net neutrality rules is said to be nearly ready to go, with an initial unveil sometime in April and a vote in May or June.