In a move that will put net neutrality back in the spotlight, US president Donald Trump has elevated Republican commissioner Ajit Pai to the position of chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Advocates for net neutrality thought the battle had been largely won back in 2015 when the FCC passed regulations that provided strong legal protections for network neutrality.
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers should enable equal access to all content and applications regardless of the source, and without favouring or slowing down particular products or websites. Without it, ISPs and content creators may be able to negotiate to put their content in the ‘fast lane’.
Pai, a member of the FCC since 2012, has a record of promising to undo the agency’s landmark 2015 net neutrality rules and is set to revisit the issue.
In a speech in December 2016 Pai said under the Trump administration the FCC will shift from “playing defence to offence” and begin “remove outdated and unnecessary regulations.”
“We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation,” he said at the time.
As the chart below from Statista illustrates ISPs like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon have made, or are planning to make, large investments in content companies.
Statista writes: “Now consider this example: Assuming that AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner is approved, wouldn’t Comcast have an incentive to throttle your internet connection when watching HBO Now, which belongs to its biggest competitor AT&T and stands in direct competition to some of its own content providers?”
You will find more statistics at Statista
Communications advocacy nonprofit Public Knowledge urged the new FCC chairman to preserve the commission’s recent efforts to ensure an open internet, broadband privacy and any other critical consumer protections.
“Commissioner Pai has a history of attacking consumer protections, from the Open Internet order to our right to privacy online. Even so, every Commissioner who has been elevated to Chairman discovers the job is very different from what he or she thought it would be. Most quickly discover that getting things done while running an agency sometimes requires a different set of skills as well as a willingness to compromise,” said Gene Kimmelman, President and CEO at Public Knowledge.
“With this in mind, we urge Chairman Pai to preserve consumer protections and to focus on driving down prices and expanding choices for all essential communications services while preserving the Commission’s recent pro-competitive and consumer protection rules and actions.”