Call it a good week to bury bad news. As America winds down for Thanksgiving, there has been little time for pumpkin pie at the Federal Communications Commission: the Washington Post reports that the organization has published its final plan to dismantle net neutrality. The unveiling had been previously predicted by the Wall Street Journal.
This has, of course, been in the cards since Donald Trump was elected. The president’s pick for FCC chair, Ajit Pai, made it known early that he wanted to scrap the rules, and he moved quickly to overturn them. An initial proposal for a repeal was soon issued, and public consultation on that document closed just under three months ago.
The FCC’s plan is now to roll back Obama-era rules that reclassified Internet service providers as common carriers rather than information services. Under Pai, the plan is to classify them as carriers once more.
All that is a very bureaucratic way of saying the FCC’s ability to police ISPs—and the services they provide to consumers—will be softened. The plan will also hand some authority over ISPs to the Federal Trade Commission, the body that protects consumers and is able to sue companies whose actions do not tally with the claims they make to the public.
The new plan will go to a vote at the FCC on December 14. It’s expected to pass, as the commision currently has a Republican majority.
In a statement, Pai said that under the repeal of net neutrality rules, “the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet.” He added that he will “look forward to returning to the light-touch, market-based framework that unleashed the digital revolution and benefited consumers here and around the world.”
There will be public furor over the news. While opponents of net neutrality say such rules disincentivize investment in innovation and infrastructure, advocates say the repeal will make it easy for ISPs to throttle, block, or prioritize traffic for their own gain. The voices in support of net neutrality are loud, and it seems the FCC has chosen this week to roll out its plan in order to minimize their volume.
As we’ve argued in the past, neutrality may be a worthy aspiration, but it’s one that doesn’t actually seem to work in reality, and it often ends up being as frustrating as the system it replaces. So while it may seem like a violation of consumer rights, we may be better served by simply getting on with the business of using, building, and refining the Internet—whatever the FCC says.
This post has been updated to reflect the fact that the FCC has published its plan to repeal net neutrality.
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