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Net neutrality policy still up in the air under Trump

Grant Gross | Feb. 2, 2017
The FCC doesn't yet have a plan, and Congress may move forward on its own

screen shot 2017 02 01 at 8.51.22 am
Credit: Twitter/Free Press via PCWorld

During his campaign, U.S. President Donald Trump called the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules a "top-down power grab," leading many observers to expect a quick repeal.

Trump's presidency is still in its infancy and it's unclear what his administration will do about the hot-button issue.

It's difficult to determine what direction the unpredictable Trump administration will take, said Nathan White, senior legislative manager at Access Now, a digital rights group.

"The world is a very complicated place right now," he said. "I don't think we can get too far out front and predict the future."

Ajit Pai, Trump's pick for chairman of the FCC, has promised, however, to "fire up the weed whacker" and kill net neutrality and other regulations passed by the FCC during President Barack Obama's administration.

But this week, Pai declined to outline a path forward on net neutrality, saying only that he continues to oppose the FCC's 2015 decision to reclassify broadband as a regulated common carrier under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

"We haven’t made any determinations at this time," Pai said during a press conference Tuesday. "My position is pretty simple. I favor a free and open Internet and I oppose Title II. That's pretty much all I can say about that topic."

The Republican-controlled Congress may take a different path than a possible repeal of the rules at the FCC.

Lawmakers will likely push for legislation, similar to a proposal from early 2015, that would write basic net neutrality protections into law, Senator John Thune, the Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, said recently. A law passed by Congress would supersede any actions taken at the FCC.

Even though the FCC may move to repeal its reclassification, Thune called for a bipartisan agreement on some baseline rules. A Republican-controlled FCC moving to repeal the net neutrality rules "may help inspire some of my Democrat colleagues to embrace the idea that a bipartisan, legislative solution is the best possible outcome," he said in a Jan. 23 speech.

Internet companies and users need certainty about long-term rules that won't change every time there's a new party in power, Thune said. 

"We need clear and reasonable rules for the digital road that Internet companies, broadband providers, and end users can easily understand," he added. "Complex and ambiguous regulations that shift with the political winds aren’t in anyone’s best interest."

It's unclear, however, if Congress will have "the attention or the political will" to move forward with a bill, said Access Now's White. 

 

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