The Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, announced today that the Commission will vote on its proposal to end net neutrality rules next month. Since the commission is majority Republican and has no interest in listening to the comments of millions of Americans, the vote on December 14th will likely pass, and the handful of companies that control residential internet in the US will be able to do whatever they want.
The full text of the proposal won’t be released until tomorrow, but judging by the statement Pai released today, the only rules left in place will be the ones made up by the cable companies themselves.
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement. “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.”
Democratic Senator Brian Schatz, the ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, lost no time blasting Pai’s statement. “Since its formation, we’ve seen a free and open internet grow our economy and our imaginations. But today the FCC has threatened to end the internet as we know it. If adopted, the FCC’s plan will change the way every American gets information, watches movies, listens to music, conducts business, and talks to their families. By repealing basic net neutrality protections, the FCC is handing over full control of the internet to providers, leaving the American people with fewer choices and less access.”
The burden of regulation will be shifted to the Federal Trade Commission, which is charged with protecting consumers across every industry. Pai argues that the FTC is the logical choice to regulate the telecoms industry, as it’s the expert in interpreting companies’ own terms and conditions.
But that argument misses the point entirely. The FTC has none of the teeth to fight a multi-billion-dollar industry that the FCC does; it’s far busier than the FCC; and it’s less familiar with the complexities of the telecoms business. More than anything else, the FTC will only be able to make sure that cable companies are adhering to their own terms and conditions, which are written to protect the cable monopolists, not the consumer.
The FTC is adept at ensuring that one particular company doesn’t illegally screw over a bunch of customers. But the problems with the telecoms industry stem from a lack of competition, not just lackluster customer service, and the FTC won’t be able to do anything to promote healthy competition between cable companies.
This isn’t quite the end of the road for net neutrality. Thanks to the speed at which the FCC has moved to repeal rules that are only two years old — and the fact that Pai has blatantly ignored millions of pro-net-neutrality comments filed by the public — you can expect the decision to get tied up in court for years to come.