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FCC Announces Plan To 'Gut Net Neutrality'

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai revealed a proposal to roll back the net neutrality protections introduced by the Obama administration. The commission released a fact sheet, background on internet regulation, and full text from a speech from Pai claiming that this proposal would allow more Americans to go online, create jobs, and encourage companies to continue investing in the nation's infrastructure.

The FCC previously introduced safeguards that would prevent ISPs from charging some companies more for access to their networks or creating "fast lanes" that favored paying services over their non-paying counterparts. The idea was to prevent ISPs from creating a multi-tier internet that hindered some companies, such as Netflix and Hulu, by requiring them to fork over some money if they wanted their services to have viable performance. This decision was also supposed to prevent consumers from having to pay more for internet access depending on what sites they wanted to visit.

Pai said he wants to roll back those protections for various reasons. Most come back to wanting the FCC--the agency of which he's in charge--to be less active in regulating the internet. This is made evident in the materials published today, such as this quote from Internet Regulations: Myths vs Facts, which is entirely devoted to criticizing the Title II regulations introduced to protect net neutrality:

Government regulation is not the friend of free speech, but an enemy. For example, the First Amendment doesn’t give the government power to regulate. It denies the government that power. Additionally, greater government regulation of the Internet is strongly supported by many who are fundamentally hostile to free speech.

Another document, Restoring Internet Freedom For All Americans, also opposes Title II regulations. The FCC said in the document that Title II regulations have led to a decline in investment in broadband networks and the shelving of plans to update broadband infrastructure. "Thousands of good-paying jobs were lost due to lower infrastructure investment," the FCC said, and it added that online privacy was weakened because it was going to be regulated by the FCC instead of the FTC. The commission said that Pai's proposal would solve all those problems in the following ways:

It will spur broadband deployment throughout the country and thus bring better, faster Internet service to more Americans.It will create jobs by putting Americans to work deploying broadband networks and by creating the networks and online opportunities necessary for additional job growth and economic opportunity.It will boost competition and choice in the broadband marketplace.It will secure online privacy by putting the FTC—the nation’s premier consumer protection agency—back in charge of broadband providers’ privacy practices.It will restore Internet Freedom by ending government micromanagement and returning to the bipartisan regulatory framework that worked well for decades.

Many Americans simply don't have access to broadband internet. The FCC said in January 2016 that 10% of all Americans lack access to a 25Mbps down and 3Mbps up connection. Pew said in December 2015 that many Americans can't afford broadband access or are in "hard-to-reach" areas that won't get broadband any time soon. This is at least partly attributable to the monopolies or duopolies ISPs hold in many markets. Many people have only one broadband internet provider available to them, and without competition from other companies, those providers have little incentive to expand or upgrade their networks. It's also easier for them to charge whatever they want for their service if there's no alternative.

In a statement released by Common Cause, a rights organization, former FCC commissioner Michael Copps said:

Chairman Pai is kissing the ring of the Big Money lobbyists who too often call the shots in the Trump Administration. Ending net neutrality would be a body blow to the open dialogue upon which successful self-government depends. It would be a red light for democracy and a green light for cable and telecom giants to control where we go and what we do on the internet. The FCC, Congress, and President Trump are risking the wrath of millions of Americans who depend daily on affordable access to the open internet.

Pai said in his speech that he will publish the full text of his proposal tomorrow afternoon. You can read his full speech on the FCC website.