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FCC commish knocks Net neutrality plan, warns of stealthy regulations

Grant Gross | Feb. 11, 2015
The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has undersold the amount of intrusive new regulations his net neutrality proposal will bring to the Internet and to broadband providers, a Republican commissioner said Tuesday.

The chairman of the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has undersold the amount of intrusive new regulations his net neutrality proposal will bring to the Internet and to broadband providers, a Republican commissioner said Tuesday.

The net neutrality proposal from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler would bring "adverse consequences to entire Internet economy," Commissioner Ajit Pai said during a press conference. "The imposition of these heavy-handed ... regulations is going to present onerous burdens on everybody, across the entire landscape."

The proposal would allow the FCC to define just and reasonable prices for broadband service and to impose in the future common-carrier telecom regulations, like requiring providers to share their networks with competitors, the commissioner said.

Pai called on Wheeler to release the 332-page document containing the proposed rules before the FCC is scheduled to vote on them Feb. 26. Wheeler has declined Republican requests to release the document, saying he plans to allow commissioners to discuss the draft rules in private until then, as has happened in past FCC rule-making proceedings.

Wheeler's release of the draft proposal to fellow commissioners three weeks before a vote is "in accordance with long-standing FCC process," and the chairman will release it after the vote, FCC spokeswoman Kim Hart said. "We are confident the other commissioners will give the proposal an exhaustive review."

The public should have the right to see the far-reaching proposal in the weeks leading up to the vote, Pai countered. "Transparency is our friend here," he added.

Asked if he could release the document on his own, Pai said FCC rules prevent him from doing so.

Wheeler's plan would reclassify broadband from a lightly regulated information service to a more regulated telecommunications service, including some of the common-carrier regulations faced by traditional telecom carriers. The FCC would forbear from applying several common-carrier regulations under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, Wheeler has said.

But the proposal has the FCC forbearing from many common-carrier rules only "at this time," said Pai, who doesn't support any new net neutrality rules, even as some Republicans and broadband providers have signed on to lighter regulations. Down the road, the FCC could vote to require broadband providers to share their networks, to contribute fees to the agency's Universal Service Fund and could give the agency authority over providers' entry into and exit from local markets, he said.

"The president's plan makes clear that more utility-style regulation is coming," Pai said. "Expect regulation to ratchet up, and forbearance to fade."

The plan would also regulate how and where broadband providers establish interconnection points on the backbone of the Internet and how they route traffic, Pai said. The proposal would allow class-action lawsuits to challenge broadband providers' management of their networks, a "gift to trial lawyers," he added.

 

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