During a speech today in Washington Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai announced his intention to reverse an FCC decision to classify broadband Internet access providers under the Obama administration as “Title II” common carriers, which put them in the same category as traditional telephone companies. That re-classification had allowed the FCC enough authority to impose Net Neutrality as a requirement for all wireless and desktop broadband providers. If the Title II status is changed, the FCC would no longer have that authority and Net Neutrality would soon be extinct.
“Going forward, we cannot stick with regulations from the Great Depression meant to micromanage Ma Bell,” Pai said.
The FCC will vote on the proposal during an open meeting May 18th and that will kickoff a series of intense legal battles with proponents of Net Neutrality clinging to hope that the Administrative Procedure Act if 1946 will be able to save it. That law prohibits federal agencies from enacting “capricious” decisions, with the intent of the law helping to foster stability and order. Since the FCC successfully argued in favor of Title II reclassification in federal court last summer under the previous administration, legal scholars believe Pai will have to show with solid supporting evidence that enough has changed since that time to justify a complete reversal of policy.
Huge money is at stake for broadband providers and mobile carriers wishing to create ‘toll lanes’ on the Internet, while content providers like NetFlix and YouTube stand to gain or lose billions of dollars depending on the outcome as well.
Perhaps even more important to this controversial policy change is the role of regulators in a grander sense. Are administrative bodies like the FCC intended to take a long term view of regulations, or are we destined to live in a world where each election brings sweeping reforms aimed at vanquishing the rules established by a prior administration and leaving everyone with far more chaos to content with as we attempt to do business online?