When it comes to net neutrality, few people, it seems, are actually neutral.
On the one hand, many federal officials, consumer advocates and corporations want to preserve net neutrality rules established by the Federal Communications Commission in 2015. On the other hand, skeptics would like to see the softening of certain aspects of these rules.
At the center of the back-and-forth over net neutrality is Ajit Pai, appointed by President Donald Trump as the new FCC chairman. Pai hasn’t tipped his hand regarding exactly how he wants to proceed with net neutrality, but it’s clear that he’s poised to push for changes.
“I believe, as I think most Americans do, in a free and open internet, and the only question is what regulatory framework best secures that,” Pai recently told Reuters. “Before the imposition of these Depression-era rules, we had for 20 years a bipartisan consensus on a regulatory model.”
However, Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, a pro-consumer group that backs net neutrality, says, “Millions of Americans from across the political spectrum have looked to the FCC to protect their rights to connect and communicate, and cheered decisions like the historic net neutrality ruling.”
Reuters succinctly describes the debate over net neutrality this way: Internet service providers (ISPs) fret that net neutrality rules make it more difficult to manage internet traffic and make investments in extra capacity less likely, while websites worry that without the rules, they might lose access to customers.
Putting this into context, Tribune Media Wire says that without net neutrality, an ISP like Verizon or Comcast potentially could slow or block access to services like Netflix or Hulu, as many ISPs operate competitive streaming services. Meanwhile, the Netflix and Hulus of the world could be required to fork over more money to ISPs for quicker speeds. On the flipside, ISPs complain that net neutrality shackles them, hampering investments in broadband improvements.
Pai hasn’t committed to a strategy addressing the future of net neutrality, but he does say he backs a “free and open internet” and opposes Title II. The Title II component of net neutrality classifies broadband as a public telecommunications utility.
In a written statement in 2015, Pai said Title II “is not just a solution in search of a problem—it’s a government solution that creates a real-world problem. This is not what the internet needs, and it’s not what the American people want.” He said the FCC was replacing internet freedom with government control.
In a December speech at a luncheon hosted by the Free State Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank that espouses free-market principles, Pai insisted—without giving details—that the FCC must ax “outdated and unnecessary regulations.”
“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation,” said Pai, echoing his stance on net neutrality.
However, in a statement, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, vowed to fight any effort to roll back the net neutrality rules. Under Title II, net neutrality puts the onus on ISPs to protect data they collect about their customers.
“Big broadband companies want to mine and sell consumers’ most sensitive personal information without any consent. Overturning broadband privacy protections is nothing more than Big Broadband’s way of pumping up its profits and undermining consumer rights,” Markey said.