FCC’s Pai launches plans to revise net neutrality rules

The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Ajit Pai has launched a broad plan to revise the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules, which were enacted in 2015 to help ensure that all online content is treated the same by broadband service providers in the U.S.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai Addresses 2017 NAB Show In Las Vegas

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The FCC’s plan would “reverse utility-style regulation for broadband providers and eliminate a broad conduct standard that gives the FCC authority to intervene in Internet Service Provider (ISP) behavior on case-by-case basis,” reports Axios.

How the FCC’s net neutrality rollback evolves will be watched closely by information and communication technology (ICT) regulators and other policymakers worldwide as they seek to balance policies that encourage much-needed ICT infrastructure investment from larger, established providers with policies that build a fair and competitive environment that fosters tech innovation from smaller ICT competitors — both of which are now considered essential for growth in today’s digital economy.

A debate over ICT regulatory policy

Mr Pai asserted in his speech this week that Americans want to see new networks built, rather than “heavy-handed regulations that saddle businesses with a lot of rules.”

Pai is acting to remove a “stifling regulatory cloud,” AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in an emailed message. The rule has created “a cloud over broadband investment decisions and innovation,” said Brian Roberts, CEO of Comcast Corp.

Defenders of the net neutrality rules strongly disagree, however, and they promise to resist efforts to roll back the policy.

“Any effort to weaken Open Internet protections must be rejected,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of Incompas, a trade group with members including Facebook and Amazon.com. “The risks of FCC action far outweigh any reward.”

“The current FCC net neutrality rules are working and these consumer protections should not be changed,” said Michael Beckerman, president of the Internet Association, a group with members including Google, EBay, and Microsoft.

Silicon Valley is divided on its support for the net neutrality rollback “with Internet companies like Facebook supporting strong rules and hardware and chip makers open to Mr. Pai’s changes,” reports the New York Times.

Broad implications

The Times points out that the FCC’s oversight of broadband companies under the net neutrality policy has drawn greater interest lately, given that recent proposed mega-mergers, such as AT&T’s $85 billion bid for Time Warner would create massive ICT-media conglomerates that distribute and own video content.

RELATED: AT&T-Time Warner merger: What are the global implications?

We’ve written before on the impact such mega-mergers may have worldwide as the ICT and media industries rapidly converge in a race to meet the growing demand for video content.

Indeed, how this regulatory policy shift unfolds will have significant implications for telecom and ICT business strategy, industry changes, investment — and ultimately, how well citizens are connected to the data and content they want and need.

RELATED: Apple’s new original content plans highlight growing ICT-media convergence

The net neutrality policy was “the signature telecom regulation of the Obama era,” reports The New York Times. “The rules were intended to ensure an open internet, meaning that no content could be blocked by broadband providers and that the internet would not be divided into pay-to-play fast lanes for internet and media companies that can afford it and slow lanes for everyone else.”

So what’s next?

Pai says he will ask the FCC next month to start considering removing the strong legal authority behind net neutrality rules, and to take suggestions for new regulations. For that, he says, the FCC will seek public comment on how move forward to lessen regulation while preserving the basic principles of net neutrality.

The FCC will vote on whether to formally consider Pai’s proposal, including allowing the public to comment on his plan, at the agency’s May meeting. A second vote will be required before any changes can be enacted. Pai says he believes that will happen by 2018.

Note: ITU Secretary-General Houlin Zhao will meet Mr Pai next week to discuss a range of issues.

RELATED: Want an in-depth look at why collaborative regulation is critical to driving information and communication technology (ICT) development?

Read this special edition of ITU News Magazine for best practices shared by public and private sector leaders gathered last May at ITU’s Global Symposium for Regulators (GSR) in Egypt.

This year’s GSR will be held in the Bahamas.

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