FCC chairman Ajit Pai has briefed telecom trade associations on his plans to scale back net neutrality rules, The Wall Street Journal reports. Pai’s plans will apparently maintain the basic concept of net neutrality, but will move the enforcement of the rules back to the Federal Trade Commission, rather than the FCC.
The plans will likely please Republicans, who have complained of the FCC’s overreach since the commission’s 2015 order moved ISP jurisdiction away from the FTC, and enshrined net neutrality laws as they stand today. The new rules would supposedly see telecom companies voluntarily pledging to follow the principles of net neutrality, providing equal access to all traffic, with offenders receiving some form of punishment for unfair practices from the FTC.
But while the WSJ says Pai’s plans will preserve the basic principles of net neutrality, giving oversight of the broadband industry back to the FTC would likely end Title II net neutrality as we know it. In order to do its job under Pai’s supposed rules, the FTC would need Title II to be rolled back, as the body is prohibited from investigating “common carriers” — exactly the kind of enterprise ISPs are qualified as under current rules.
Pai has long opposed the Title II classification of the internet as a utility, and has announced his intention to hand ISP policing back to the FTC before, stressing that it stifled competition and innovation in the market. He recently offered a new point in his argument, stressing in a Washington Post op-ed — written with acting chairman of the FTC Maureen Ohlhausen — that the FCC was weak on privacy. They described the FTC as “America’s most experienced and expert privacy cop,” and said that it needed to be put “back on the beat.”
It’s not yet clear when Pai’s plans would come into play, but the WSJ says it could be as soon as May, at the FCC’s monthly meeting. The June meeting is also a possibility, but Democrats and other net neutrality advocates are likely to raise objections when Pai’s concrete plans become public.