Tom Wheeler served as the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission for four years, before the arrival of President Trump and his nominee Ajit Pai ended his tenure. Under his rule, the FCC fought for the rights of consumers and for a free and competitive internet. The cornerstone of his legacy is the Open Internet Rule, the mechanism that enshrines net neutrality in federal rules, and stands between profit-seeking telecoms monopoly and the American public.
As you might expect, Wheeler is angry and disappointed (like the majority of the American population) by Ajit Pai’s plan to reverse the Open Internet Rule and give telecoms companies the ability to discriminate on the type of content you can access using your internet connection. In his new role as a fellow of the Brookings Insitute, he explains why Pai’s move is an existential threat to a free and open internet:
The Trump FCC’s proposal to eliminate the over-two-year-old Open Internet Rule is a shameful sham and sellout.
A fair and open internet is the backbone of the digital economy. The FCC has sold out to the wishes of the companies it is supposed to regulate over the consumers it is supposed to protect. For more than a decade, previous Republican and Democratic FCCs have tried to bring fairness and balance to the delivery of the internet to consumers. Every one of those efforts has been opposed by the corporations that consumers rely on to deliver the internet. Now the Trump FCC has simply cut to the chase, there is no need for the big companies to sue—they’ll just be given everything they want.
Wheeler goes on to explain that shifting the burden of regulation over to the FTC is exactly what the telecoms companies want: the FTC has no rule-making authority, and no real teeth.
The Communications Act mandates the FCC to protect consumers of telecommunications services. This proposal neatly steps away from that responsibility by redefining internet service as not being a “telecommunications service.” It is a legal sleight-of-hand and those who proposed this and vote for it should be ashamed of themselves.
Even for this FCC and its leadership, this proposal raises hypocrisy to new heights. They are “protecting consumers” by disavowing responsibility to do just that. They are providing for “better regulation” by giving authority to the FTC which has no regulatory authority. They are walking away from the clear statutory mandate to oversee telecommunications services by cleverly saying local internet delivery is not a telecommunications service.
The full post isn’t long, and isn’t remotely technical. If you want to bone up on why the FCC vote is a sham before visiting your family tomorrow, the link is here.