Net neutrality pinky swear from ISPs is good enough, says FCC chair

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Network neutrality rules that prohibit Internet service providers from speeding up or slowing down subscriber’s traffic based on what it is or whether or not it’s profitable appear to be on the way out. Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai reportedly met with lobbyists last week and floated the idea of a voluntary system that would have ISPs write net neutrality commitments into their terms of service, which in turn would be overseen by the Federal Trade Commission, and not the FCC.

According to a Reuters story by David Shepardson, under Pai’s plan broadband would no longer be considered a common carrier service…

The rules approved by the FCC under Democratic President Barack Obama in early 2015 prohibited broadband providers from giving or selling access to speedy internet, essentially a “fast lane”, to certain internet services over others. As part of that change, the FCC reclassified internet service providers much like utilities.

Pai wants to overturn that reclassification, but wants internet providers to voluntarily agree to not obstruct or slow consumer access to web content, two officials said late Tuesday…

Three sources said Pai plans to unveil his proposal to overturn the rules as early as late April and it could face an initial vote in May or June.

Politico.com reports that Pai’s closed door meeting included lobbyists from trade groups that front for wireline telcos, mobile carriers, cable companies and fixed wireless operators.

A completely voluntary system would be meaningless. Without the common carrier classification, there would be no direct regulatory oversight of broadband service practices and individual providers could change their terms at will. A possible middle ground could be to have companies agree contractually to common standards, perhaps through their respective trade associations, but that could trigger anti-trust problems. And in any event, there’s nothing to prevent them from adopting symbolic but ineffective standards or from reversing course later on.