FCC Abandons Consumer Protection Responsibility With Net Neutrality Repeal

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Today, the Federal Communications Commission voted to adopt FCC Chairman Pai’s “Restoring Internet Freedom” proposal, walking away from the agency’s longstanding commitment to protecting the Open Internet and ensuring that broadband providers do not discriminate against internet content or services. Chairman Pai’s proposal to repeal the net neutrality rules is a deeply troubling and radical break from an almost 20 years of bipartisan FCC tradition of protecting the Open Internet.

The agency’s new proposal downgrades broadband from a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act, to a mere “information service.” The Order eliminates the existing network neutrality rules (“no blocking, no throttling, and no fast lanes”) that protected the Open Internet for two years. Millions of Americans expressed support for these rules by submitting comments with the FCC leading up to the 2015 Open Internet Order, and millions of Americans have opposed FCC Chairman Pai’s proposal to roll back these rules since he announced it last spring.

The following can be attributed to Chris Lewis, Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“Today’s vote is an unprecedented abdication of responsibility by the FCC to protect free expression online and to promote a free market for innovation. For almost 20 years and through agency leadership from both parties, the FCC has used its power to protect an Open Internet through net neutrality policies, rules, enforcement actions, and merger conditions. With this vote, Chairman Pai, Commissioner O’Reilly, and Commissioner Carr have not only left the American people without clear rules to protect an Open Internet, but also put us all at the mercy of local monopoly broadband providers like Comcast and Verizon to voluntarily commit to not harm competitors or maximize profits. We are grateful to Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel for their steadfast and passionate defense of the 2015 rules. They continue to be champions for the public interest in their vocal opposition to this vote.

“The impact of this vote is clear. It is now legal for your broadband provider to block a legal website or service without consumer consent. It is now legal for broadband providers to set up their business to discriminate against some content and favor their own. This is not make believe or hysteria, but fact. Broadband providers have done it before and said publicly that they will do it again. By entirely eliminating its rules and oversight role, the FCC has effectively given broadband providers the green light to press forward with anticompetitive and anti-consumer business models. Chairman Pai has put his faith in the FTC, but Congress has not given the FTC authority to make brightline rules preventing blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. All we are left with is big cable and telecommunications companies telling us to ‘trust them’ not to violate net neutrality principles.

“Other consequences will follow as broadband providers exploit their newfound power. Americans should worry about their broadband bills and the prices they pay for online applications and services rising not only because many areas lack broadband choice, but also because some sites and web services may have to pay for prioritized access online, ultimately passing those costs on to consumers. We don’t know how far broadband providers will take this gatekeeper power. They have used it in video entertainment services, but what sector is next? Social media? Education? Home alarms and emergency services? Time will tell, as broadband providers now have the authority to normalize selling broadband like they sell cable television -- where the company decides where you can go online and sets packages and tiers which require more money to reach more of the internet. We have not seen this yet, but without net neutrality rules, it can become reality.

“The fight to maintain an Open Internet does not stop with this vote. Public Knowledge has successfully defended net neutrality in court for many years and is prepared to take part in a challenge to this ruling. We also support those in Congress who have already pledged to repeal this horrible decision. All Americans should contact their representatives in Congress and demand that their Senators and Congressmen support overturning the FCC’s net neutrality repeal. Chairman Pai admitted that he would ignore the sheer volume of opinions submitted to the FCC by the American people, but their elected representatives cannot ignore the views of the American people without consequences in the upcoming midterm elections.”

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