This week, in attempt to save face in what has otherwise been a disastrous first 100 days, the Trump administration is rolling out several sweeping proposals dealing with tax reform and health care. Whether they’re able to pass such complicated pieces of legislation through Congress, of course, remains to be seen. But one thing Trump likely won’t get much resistance on is net neutrality. After all, this is the same Republican-led Congress that has already passed a bill reversing internet privacy rules requiring internet providers to obtain their customers’ consent before sharing or selling their browsing information and other data.
Today, Ajit Pai, the new Trump-appointed head of the FCC, outlined his plan to rid many of the Obama-era net neutrality rules. In a preliminary one-sheet proposal, Pai announced his intention to undo a 2015 classification that made the internet a government-regulated utility akin to telephone services. Instead, Pai argues that internet service providers should be allowed to police themselves.
Pai and fellow opponents of net neutrality say such regulations result in “higher broadband prices, slower broadband speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation, and fewer options for consumers.” However, net neutrality advocacy groups believe such a scenario would occur only after regulations are reversed, as internet service providers would be free to create a two-tier pay-to-play internet, where websites are charged extra fees for faster load speeds and other preferential treatments. ISPs could also slow down its competitors’ websites, block content it disagrees with, and impose data limits on users.
Meeting recently with major ISPs like AT&T and Verizon, Pai reportedly suggested they commit in writing to open internet principles and include such language in their terms of service, which he believes would make them binding. However, it’s unclear whether regulators could legally compel ISPs to abide by such principles without existing net neutrality rules.
“It would put consumers at the mercy of phone and cable companies,” Craig Aaron, president of the consumer advocacy group Free Press, told the New York Times. “In a fantasy world, all would be fine with a pinkie swear not to interrupt pathways and portals to the internet despite a history of doing that.”
Many major tech companies and websites, including Facebook, Google, and Amazon, have long stressed the importance of net neutrality. In anticipation of Pai’s announcement, more than 800 startups signed an open letter asking him to protect current regulations.
The entire text of Pai’s proposal will be made available ahead of the FCC’s vote and he says the process will be “transparent” and “with public input.” However, with Republicans controlling a majority of the FCC’s seats, it’s likely that Pai will get everything he wants, and then some.