Pai sets FCC targets on net neutrality, but don’t expect an easy ride

The first few months of the Trump presidency have been pretty turbulent for the tech and telco industry, but as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai set his target on net neutrality, don’t expect this battle to run as smoothly.

Only last week, Pai reportedly told major telco trade groups of his plans to drop net neutrality rules put in place by his predecessor Tom Wheeler in 2015, and to replace the legislation with voluntary agreements to adopt open internet principles. Telcos would not be held by law to maintain the open internet philosophy, but instead the consumer will be asked to trust the profit-hungry machines that they won’t create a two-tiered internet, promoting or relegated certain traffic.

While some people might raise their eye brows at the idea of trusting a faceless, profit-centric organization with such a non-committal proposition, the Democrats have vowed not to allow Pai this victory as easily as he has swept through changes to date, according to Reuters.

“We are gearing up for a battle that could eviscerate the widely supported open Internet protections,” said Democrat FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a long-time supporter of net neutrality rules in the US. “(the rules) were built on a record of more than four million comments, and demonstrated that a free and open internet is at the very heart of our American democracy.”

It’s tough-talk which we have heard on more than one occasion, but it there does appear to be some substance to the posturing this time.

The rules set in place during the previous administration reclassified ISPs as public utilities, which was not well received by the telcos or lobbyists in Washington. Such support could make the changes much simpler, but Clyburn isn’t alone in her defence of the rules this time.

The net neutrality proposition is currently supported by numerous advocates, including The Internet Association, who membership counts some global heavy weights. With the likes of Facebook, Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Twitter and Uber, all members and supporters of the net neutrality proposition, Pai might find a bit more resistance from lobbyists and commerce with this reversal.

In terms of offering complete disclosure for the scenario, the telcos have not opposed net neutrality as a proposition to date. In fact, there have been several shallow, PR-laden statements which in fact support it. However, the removal of legislation which prevents the creation of a two-tiered internet is a slightly suspect move. The reclassification argument might be viewed by some as a slight smoke screen to disguise the real ambitions here.

The telcos will almost certainly commit to the voluntary agreements to adopt open internet principles, though values and the importance of consumer interests could be put to the test. A sceptical individual might wonder how long greedy-execs can keep sticky fingers to themselves; a two-tiered internet could be commercially very attractive…

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