FCC Chairman Shuts Down Senators’ Call to Delay Net Neutrality Vote

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has rebuffed the calls from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and 28 senators, including U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY and Senate Minority Leader), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), to delay the vote to roll back net neutrality rules. The FCC said it will move forward and vote on whether to roll back the rules to the 2010 regulations on December 14. 

In a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the senators said they are concerned that the public comments file may be filled with fake comments, as reported by The Hill. Schneiderman has been investigating the possibility of fraudulent comments for the past six months, the article noted.

In March 2015, the FCC released 400 pages of net neutrality rules, in which the commission reclassified broadband Internet service as a public utility, subject to Title II regulation. The FCC issued the regulations in an effort to protect an open Internet by placing bans on the practices of blocking; “throttling,” that is, impairing or degrading the delivery of content to a user; and paid prioritization, which allows a provider to accept payment to prioritize content, applications, services, or devices. At the time, the FCC also stressed that it would not use Title II to set prices for broadband services, nor would it result in the imposition of any new federal taxes or fees.

The FCC, in its recent 200-plus page declaratory ruling, report and order “Restoring Internet Freedom,” wants to change the classification of the Internet back to an “Information Service,” rather than a public utility. When it instituted net neutrality, the recent declaratory ruling noted, the FCC “abandoned almost 20 years of precedent by reclassifying broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service subject to myriad regulatory obligations.” The order would “reverse this misguided and legally flawed approach and restore broadband Internet access service to its Title I information service classification.” Under Title I, the Federal Trade Commission would police the privacy practices of Internet service providers (ISPs).

However, many proponents of net neutrality believe the policy protects a free and open Internet. They contend the rollback would be a win for the big ISPs and believe there is potential that they will throttle speech with which they disagree — a big loss for consumers and free speech. Net neutrality activists, including the National Coalition Against Censorship, are urging supporters to demand that certain companies — and their content — are not given preferential treatment. This issue could define consumers’ relationship to the Internet in concerning and crucial ways, NCAC argues.

On its website, NCAC stressed that, “while NCAC rarely supports the regulation of information, net neutrality regulations ensure that Internet providers treat all information equally, without regard to its commercial or political content. They cannot speed up service to friendly outlets and slow — or even halt — service to unfriendly ones. They cannot determine who is and is not heard.” NCAC is urging free speech supporters to make their voices heard by writing Congress.

In the senators’ letter, they expressed similar worries about potential censorship if net neutrality regulations were rolled back: “We are deeply concerned by your recently released proposal to roll back critical consumer protections by dismantling … current net neutrality rules. A free and open Internet is vital to ensuring a level playing field online and we believe that your proposed action may be based on an incomplete understanding of the public record in the proceeding… there is good reason to believe that the record may be replete with fake or fraudulent comments, suggesting that your proposal is fundamentally flawed.”

Nonetheless, on Monday, December 4, the FCC said in a statement that “the vote will proceed as scheduled,” according to The Hill. They said that pleas to delay the vote are “just evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day as their effort to defeat Chairman Pai’s plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled,” the article noted.