The FCC has been busy this year pushing through Tom Wheeler’s Rules Of The Open Internet. This new legislation radically changes broadband and the inner workings of the Internet, but it has been heavily opposed by ISPs and politicians since its initial draft. Today, Ajit Pai, one of the lead opponents of Wheeler’s Open Internet policies and a fellow FCC Commissioner, introduced his own plan for improving America’s Internet.
Ajit Pai is one of only two current FCC Commissioners who has voted against every aspect of the Open Internet legislation passed over the past six months. Commissioner Pai and Commissioner Michael O’Rielly have pointed out that the changes are radical, and instead view them as harmful to the free market and the rights of companies.
Pai is adamant that broadband and Internet service can be improved by more subtle change. Ajit wants to prove this is possible, and he presented a two-part plan to advance one of the FCC's key goals: expanding broadband service in rural America.
The first part of the plan is to change the support scheme used with current Internet and telephone services in these areas. Pai stated that currently, unless a user purchases a service plan that includes telephone service, they do not get line support from the government. As a result, companies cannot afford to offer standalone broadband service, which some customers desire, because of the added expense. Thus, the first part of the plan is to add some measure of line support to standalone broadband services.
The second part of the plan is to ease cooperation between ISPs and organizations like the Connect America Fund, so they can coordinate and share the expense of growing broadband coverage. This would cut costs for growing the ISPs' coverage area, and thus encourage growth.
The problem with the plan presented, however, is that it does not deal with companies refusing to compete with each other. Though there are rural areas in America that still lack any broadband service, if ISPs purposefully won't compete, that won't do anything to change the situation for most Americans.
Looking at this plan, it seems that it will have little effect on broadband overall, only potentially growing broadband coverage in some rural areas. All of this could simply be a way for Pai to drum up political support by way of providing a token alternative to improving broadband access. He quoted other politicians several times in speaking out against the Open Internet.
One such statement that clearly opposes the Open Internet regulations came from Senators John Thune, Amy Klobuchar and Deb Fischer, who stated, "No new models or sweeping changes are needed to adopt and implement a targeted update to fix the issue...instead, a simple plan that isolates and solves this specific issue is all that is needed right now."
Overall, this move by Pai appears to be a political effort to gain support to kill the Open Internet legislation. If plans like this are effective in addressing problems, it would show that some issues don't need changes as drastic as those presented by Wheeler. However, this fails to address key factors that prevent companies from growing, such as the refusal of companies to compete with each other.
It is possible that this plan could have some effect on expanding broadband into rural areas of America without broadband service, but that isn't all we should want from this plan. If it's successful, and the Open Internet is ultimately revoked, what we should be concerned about is what future plans will be presented to deal with the other Internet issues. Smaller plans could, over time, deal with the security, privacy, performance and other issues that the Open Internet bill already addresses, but it would take much longer and likely have a smaller effect on the overall operations of ISPs and the Internet.