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New FCC Chair Reignites Net Neutrality Rules

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Knock, knock, Neo.

Behind the screen you are looking at right now, another world is knocking.

It's not the Matrix; it's the internet. And it is blowing up in a debate about the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

On one side, Comcast, AT&T, and ISP lobbyists are heaping praise on Ajit Pai, who was appointed FCC chairman by President Donald Trump. On the other side, consumer groups, public interest advocates, and the media are hating on the new appointee.

What Is Real?

While many issues face the incoming chairman, the debate over net neutrality has taken center stage in this political drama. In a speech last month, Pai reiterated his opposition to the FCC's net neutrality rules reclassifying ISPs as "common carriers" under Title II of the Communications Act last year. He said he would take a "weed whacker" to some old rules.

The Open Internet order brought ISP's within FCC regulation like other public utilities. Among other provisions, the net neutrality rules said that ISP's can't discriminate in the traffic they carry. Then-FCC chair Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, explained that businesses shouldn't be able to charge and restrict access without regulation.

"The internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet," he said. "It's simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field."

Free Your Mind

But Pai, a Republican who was an FCC commissioner at the time, said it was another unnecessary regulation.

"I don't know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission. But I do believe that its days are numbered,'" he said.

In dissenting from the regulatory order, Pai called the Title II reclassification a "public-utility regulation" and "a solution that wouldn't work for a problem that didn't exist."

Resolving an immediate legal challenge to the FCC's authority, a federal district court found that the FCC could treat high-speed internet providers as "common carriers." The decision, issued in a 184-page ruling, was a major win for the FCC and advocates of net neutrality.

Vowing to cut back FCC rules, Pai may produce a sequel to the internet drama.

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