FCC Begins Net Neutrality Roll Back With Industry Backing

The FCC voted 2-1 to begin the process to roll back the Obama-era Net Neutrality rules, starting what will likely be a several-months long fight over the future of internet regulation. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai says the current rules chill broadband investment while opponents dispute this. The issue is of interest to readers because it gets to the heart of the further rollout of street furniture such as small cells and antennas for 4G and eventually 5G.

The rules passed by former Chairman Tom Wheeler changed the classification of the internet from an information service, which they had been considered since the Clinton-era, to a utility in which ISPs must treat all internet traffic the same, with no fast or slow speed lanes.

Pai said “The internet was not broken in 2015,” yet the FCC at the time “succumbed to heavy handedness from the White House and changed course.” Seventy fixed wireless providers “say their hands are tied” by the regs and 22 of the smallest ISPs have slowed if not halted new builds.”

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn “most vociferously” voted against the change, saying it should be called the “Internet Destroying Freedom NPRM.” She and Democrats on the Hill and protesters outside the FCC yesterday, say it’s an example of the current administration trying to “gut” consumer protections. Clyburn disputed the financial premise Pai used, saying “No broadband provider ever told Wall Street that the Open Internet Order was responsible for decreasing capital expenditures.”

Noting the more than one million comments received on the issue to-date, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said “thankfully our work is not judged like a ‘Dancing With the Stars’ contest, meaning the content, not the number, of how many filings are made on the issue is important. Afterwards Pai told reporters the agency has received comments on the issue with names like “Superman,” “Aquaman,” “Wonder Woman” and “The Flash.”

Pai said several times yesterday that the action the agency took was a first step, and whatever the Commission decides to do, the process will be open.

After the vote, the Wireless Infrastructure Association said in a statement: “WIA continues to support the creation of a stable regulatory environment that encourages the responsible deployment of wireless infrastructure. The federal government can promote greater investment in the broadband networks the country needs while also protecting an open internet.”

USTelecom CEO Jonathan Spalter said the action will help “countless” Americans living in rural communities. “Requiring carriers to charge higher prices to rural consumers can be anticompetitive and the agency’s move to stop this increase is a welcome step in the right direction.”

Speaking on the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune of South Dakota asked everyone to put the rhetoric and fear mongering aside” and “work together to find the right policies for the internet.” While some may wish to see what the FCC does, Thune said, he favors working on new legislation right away.

WIA said the association is encouraged that the FCC’s action and Thune’s comments “will lead to bipartisan action in Congress on the issue of an open internet, which would establish long-term regulatory certainty and encourage investment for the wireless industry.”

May 19, 2017      

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