House Democrats passed the Save the Internet Act Wednesday. The bill seeks to restore the Obama-era Open Internet Order that was revoked by the FCC in 2017. Radio America’s Christian Whittle reports.
With the reversal of the Obama-era net neutrality policy set to take effect June 1, Democrats and some Republicans are scrambling to block the move legislatively, but an FCC commissioner says none of the nightmare scenarios are going to play out, many people completely miss what’s really changing, and the biggest changes likely to come from the policy change will be better, faster, and cheaper broadband.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted 52-47 through the Congressional Review Act to reverse the FCC’s December action on net neutrality. Supporters of the resolution, including three Republicans, fear that ending net neutrality will result in slower or less reliable internet service and more predatory behavior by internet service providers, or ISP’s, towards consumers, by rolling back consumer protections.
FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr says the internet will simply revert to the pre-2015 policy, which was not a time of anarchy.
“We aren’t opening up the world to some Mad Max version of the internet, where ISP’s now have free reign to dictate their online experience. What we’re doing is going back to the same legal framework that was in place in 2015 and for the 20 years before that where consumers are fully protected and wee saw massive investment in our broadband infrastructure,” said Carr.
Come June 1, he says no one will be able to tell anything has changed when they log onto the web.
“In terms of your day-to-day online experience, what you see the day these rules are removed is going to be identical to what you see the day before they’re removed,” said Carr.
But there will likely be a major impact that consumers will enjoy down the road.
“What we’ve seen principally (under net neutrality) is a pretty sharp decline in investment in the broadband space,” he said. “The one difference we’re hoping they’re going to see that some of the decline in investment, hopefully we will see a reversal in that.”
So what’s behind the protests?
“I think a lot of what we’re seeing, by advocacy groups or otherwise, is intentional misrepresentations about what this issue is about purely – and I think this has been stated publicly by others – for partisan electoral politics,” said Carr.
Carr’s greatest frustration is that many of the vociferous opponents to the new FCC policy don’t seem to realize what is changing and what is not. He says the biggest change is how the internet is classified in federal law.
“The debate is really about this Title II framework, not really about the rules themselves, and the negative impact we’ve seen in terms of investment is because of the broad Title II framework,” said Carr.
When the Obama-era FCC instituted net neutrality in 2015, it allowed the federal government to regulate the internet based on the Communications Act of 1934. It’s that additional regulation that Carr and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai contend is creating disincentives for internet service providers to invest in upgrading and improving their products.
But what about the consumer protection policies? Carr says that is easy to remedy.
“If you get down to the nitty gritty, it’s about the rules: no blocking, no throttling, no broken promises in terms of what you’re getting. There’s a tremendous amount of common ground. I’d be perfectly fine if Congress were to step in and adopt those types of specific rules,” said Carr.
He says efforts are underway to provide consumer protections through legislation rather than regulation, but only one party seems to have much interest.
“There are Republicans in Congress who have already introduced a standalone net neutrality bill and they’re not getting any traction in terms of a bipartisan group that will stand behind these bills.
“Unfortunately, there’s been so much of this focus on trying to go back to this Title II framework when I think it’s a pretty short putt…to try to enshrine the actual rules that consumers care about into law,” said Carr.
Carr firmly believes unleashing the incentives for ISP’s to invest in emerging technology will mean a much better experience for internet users much sooner than they would have gotten it under Title II regulation.
‘We’re at an interesting time from a technology perspective. We’ve got this new generation of low-earth orbit satellites – these thousand satellite constellations that people are investing in now and potentially going to launch in a couple of years. That could change the game for satellite broadband.
“We’ve got these new fixed wireless broadband applications which could give you – over the air – gigabit speeds. We could see greater competition with cable. And we’ve got 5G, this next generation of wireless broadband that going to, again, by gigabit-style speeds.
“In the not-too-distant future, these technologies and the regulatory work we’re doing at the commission right now to cut red tape and enable them. It’s going to to serve consumers and so I’m really optimistic about where we’re going in this space,” said Carr.
Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr is vigorously defending the panel’s decision to revert to the regulatory framework that applied to the internet until 2015 and he is blasting critics for hurling racist insults at the FCC chairman and even disrupting Thursday’s meeting with a bomb scare.
Advocates of the move argue a heavier government hand stifles innovation and upgrades by the major internet service providers. The critics suggest the deregulation leaves consumers at the mercy of telecom giants like Comact, AT&T, and Verizon.
“This is something people are pretty fired up about and I get it. Americans cherish the free and open internet. They don’t want to see the FCC doing anything to undermine that. The vote we took doesn’t do that. We returned back to the 2015 regulatory framework and we make sure there’s consumer protections in place,” said Carr.
Led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the commission voted Thursday to classify the internet under Title I of the 1934 Communications Act as opposed to Title II, which is where the Obama-era FCC classified the web in 2015.
“Title II is what applies to your traditional landline telephone service. Title I, up until 2015, is a lighter regulatory framework designed for what we call information services. That’s what the internet was and that’s what the internet is again after our decision,” said Carr.
Critics see things far differently. Late night talk host Jimmy Kimmel took aim at the FCC Thursday night, offering a number of ominous scenarios that he says are now possible because of Thursday’s vote.
“The FCC did something absolutely despicable today. They voted to put an end to net neutrality. This is the rule that says everyone gets equal access to the internet: a big company or somebody selling crocheted owls from their house in the Midwest,” said Kimmel.
“As long as they tell us they’re doing it now, internet service providers will now be able to slow down or block web traffic to any website or streaming service they like, which benefits the big telecom companies and does the opposite for all of us,” he added.
“There’s a lot of myths in there to bust,” said Carr, contending Kimmel and other net neutrality advocates have it backwards.
“That’s what the law was under Title II. Title II said that a broadband provider could block websites, could throttle traffic, due paid prioritization as long as they disclosed it to their customers. What we’re doing is going back to the 2015 framework.
“The key is it’s not going to be a free-for-all. Federal antitrust law is going to apply and it’s going to regulate the type of hypothetical harms that we heard him talking about,” said Carr.
Carr says that incorrect understanding is leading to a lot of the tensions in this debate.
“I’d be very concerned if we were turning over the reins of the internet completely to ISP’s and letting them dictate your online experience. That’s simply not what we’re doing, but I understand why people that perceive that we’re doing that are pretty fired up about it,” said Carr.
“I think why people are getting so much wrong information about this is because it’s a very technical issue at the FCC at the end of the day. Is this a Title II service? Is this a Title I service?
“It really doesn’t get any more wonky than that and I think people are trying to characterize this and pitch it in a way that the mass audiences will understand it and that is resulting in some hyperbole that is really apocalyptic and is not reflective of the reality of what we’re doing,” said Carr.
But when the vigorous debate spills into activists posting Chairman Pai’s home address on social media and even disrupting FCC proceedings or people like Kimmel referring to Pai on national television as a “jackhole”, the passion has gone too far.
“There’s a lot of passion. I get that. but the vitriol that we’re seeing certainly crosses the line. Our meeting was interrupted with a bomb threat. There’s been racist and other attacks. There’s been death threats against commissioners.
“People can strongly disagree about the merits of this issue and they should. We should have a vigorous debate. But when you dehumanize people and call them jackholes and shills, that doesn’t advance the debate in a substantive way. I think it gives cover for people who then go further with these racist attacks and death threat attacks,” said Carr.
Carr is not worried about the courts striking down the FCC decision although several states appear poised to try. He says the Supreme Court gave the green light to classifying the internet under Title I 15 years ago.
The net neutrality reversal will also take a few months to take effect, while various government agencies take part in the process.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud President Trump for making good on his efforts to eliminate and postpone costly and burdensome federal regulations. They also tense up as five different Senate GOP votes could be in jeopardy as vote nears on tax reform. They shake their heads as liberals lose their minds and predict an internet wasteland after the Federal Communications Commission votes to return internet regulations to where they were two years ago. And Jim offers a spoiler-free look at the new Star Wars movie.
The Federal Communications Commission voted to reverse Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ regulations Thursday, cheering free market advocates and sparking fierce resistance from opponents who fear customers will be at the mercy of service providers.
The final vote, as expected, came along party lines. Three GOP appointees voted for the change, while the two commissioners appointed by President Obama voted against it.
In recent weeks, critics of the reversal intensified their protests, claiming that reversing net neutrality would allow internet service providers to gouge consumers and force them into buying more of their products. They also suggest removing government control increases the likelihood of fewer players in the industry.
However those verbal protests have escalated in ways that draw alarm, going so far as to publicize the names of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s children. Thursday’s proceedings were briefly interrupted by a security scare.
After the vote, the mainstream media posted alarming headlines. “End of the internet as we know it,” stated the headline at CNN.com.
On the CNN cable channel, the bottom of the screen read, “Party-line vote ends rules to keep internet open and fair.” On Twitter, the Associated Press reported, “BREAKING: The FCC votes on party lines to undo sweeping Obama-era ‘net neutrality’ rules that guaranteed equal access to internet.”
But is that what happened?
“Those folks obviously don’t need to know what they’re talking about to put out what they call news,” said former Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is now director of the Regulatory Action Center at FreedomWorks.
“What happened today is that the internet was returned today to the state of light regulation. The word ‘light’ was used by Congress – you know the people who write the underlying laws for this stuff – way back in the nineties, that it had for its entire life until 2015,” said Cuccinelli.
Nonetheless, in recent weeks, critics of the reversal intensified their protests, going so far as to publicize the names of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s children. Thursday’s proceedings were briefly interrupted by a security scare.
“Violence is acceptable to many on the left to achieve their political goals. Let me say that again. Violence is acceptable to many on the left to achieve their political goals. Those goals always involve more government control and power,” said Cuccinelli.
For those fearful of what a reversal of net neutrality might mean, Cuccinelli offers a challenge.
“I would challenge any of the conspiracy theorists on the left to identify one thing that was impaired before 2015 that was suddenly fixed by those regulations or in the whole two years since then that is suddenly imperiled again. The answer is they can’t. What has been provided is certainty of the freedom of the internet again,” said Cuccinelli.
But while opponents of the reversal face that challenge, critics might fire back by asking how the internet supposedly got worse over the past two years, thus requiring such a move from the FCC.
Cuccinelli says internet service providers slowed down the expansion and upgrading of their networks long before 2015 in anticipation of net neutrality from the Obama administration.
“Investment in the internet began to drop. We’re talking hundreds of billions of dollars. The internet doesn’t just exist. It has to be built and the government didn’t build it. Private entities built it and it’s expensive to build.
“So what the Obama administration was trying to do was tell people who built pieces of the internet what they could and couldn’t do with their own property. If that’s your option, are you as likely to build stuff if the government’s going to tell you what to do with it. Of course not,” said Cuccinelli.
“We were freed from that with Chairman Pai’s proposed and now adopted freeing of the internet, the actual freeing of the internet from government. Leftists believe freedom comes from government,” he added.
But what about the concerns that rolling back federal regulations will be bad news for consumers? Cuccinelli says there are still plenty of provisions in the law to help any customers being gouged by their service providers.
“When consumers are preyed upon on the internet, the [Federal Trade Commission] is still there and state attorneys general – something I know about – are there to police fraud and that sort of behavior, whether it’s on the internet or not. That opportunity still exists,” said Cuccinelli.
He also says there’s little reason to worry that competition among service providers will suffer.
“The ability to capture market share with no one else having any option to close in on you doesn’t exist anymore because of technology,” said Cuccinelli, who asserts that there is a much greater likelihood of competition eroding with the government picking winners and losers with respect to the internet.
Cuccinelli says if any regulations need to be added, they should not spring up from government bureaucrats.
“Let’s do it in the accountable body, the Congress, the one people vote for,” said Cuccinelli. “Although I hope they end up right where they are now, that Congress looks at all this and decides we don’t want more regulation on the internet. That has never worked,” said Cuccinelli.
With one side proclaiming freedom reigns on the internet and the other dreading the future with net neutrality kicked to the curb, Cuccinelli says reality will prove who is right.
“Thankfully, we’re going to have years of experience without this Obama-era regulation in place. People are going to see productivity is going up, more access, more opportunity, more products available,” he said.
Cuccinelli says when it comes to opportunity, expecting progress through the federal government is a proven failure.
“More regulation from government has never expanded opportunity, freedom, or productivity in the marketplace. There’s no reason to expect it to happen on the internet,” said Cuccinelli.
On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission is expected to roll back Obama-era internet regulations, a move that one commissioner says will reinvigorate broadband innovation and reduce the government’s influence over the internet while keep important consumer protections in place.
“We have five commissioners at the FCC. Each commissioner gets to cast their own vote their own way. I’ll be voting ‘yes’ in favor of this plan. So we should know right then as soon as the gavel strikes where the votes are and the public will get to see it,” said Brendan Carr, who was nominated to the FCC by President Trump earlier this year. He was confirmed and sworn in to his post in August.
The FCC effort is in response to a 2015 decision to apply Title II of the 1934 Communications Act to the internet. Democratic appointees controlled the panel at the time and made the changes out of fears that internet service providers, or ISP’s, would soon be in a position to demand the purchase of services at whatever prices they wished.
Known as net neutrality, Carr says the new rules badly misapplied laws designed to address telephone service and actually wound up with the federal government micromanaging the internet and its providers.
“[Title II] arises from the 1930’s and was designed to regulate the Ma Bell telephone monopoly. It’s not designed to regulate a fast-moving, competitive marketplace. Pursuant to that re-classification, it then adopted a series of open internet rules,” said Carr.
Other than keeping some consumer protections, Carr says the policing of the ISP’s will effectively revert to the way the internet operated before 2015. Nonetheless, opposition to the plan is fierce.
Critics fear the major ISP’s – AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon – will force smaller players out of the marketplace and be free to burden consumers with mandates and higher prices.
Some activists go so far as to accuse FCC Chairman Ajit Pai of murdering democracy through this initiative.
“There is a lot of fear-mongering out there. Someone wrote me, saying that without the FCC’s Title II, Justin Bieber never would have been discovered online because he was discovered through YouTube videos. He was discovered long before the FCC’s 2015 Title II decision.
“I get it. This is the internet. This is the government being in this space. People are naturally reacting very passionately but it’s misplaced at the end of the day,” said Carr.
For casual internet users, perhaps little seems to have changed since 2015. So what impact has net neutrality had in the past two years?
“Over the last two years, we’ve seen a decline in investment in broadband networks as a result of the Title II re-classification.
“We’ve also seen ISP’s that were going to upgrade the networks, that were going to deploy new antennas, to get get new services out there pull back on those new deployments. We’ve seen some innovative new offerings from providers that have been kept on the shelf because of this massive regulatory overreach that’s associated with Title II,” said Carr.
He says reverting to the previous standards, known as Title I, many of these frustrations will fade away.
“We’re going back to the model we had in 2015. There’s a lot of confusion about eliminating all protections that consumers have online. Far from it. There are numerous consumer protections that are going to be at the core of net neutrality that are going to stay in place, just like we had them in 2015,” said Carr.
In fact, Carr says Title II actually eroded key consumer protections provided by the Federal Trade Commission and the current FCC proposal would revive them,
“By reversing Title II, we re-vest the Federal Trade Commission with authority to protect consumers that come into place because of that.
“Relatedly, consumers care passionately about their personal information and privacy online. The FTC is the nation’s premier enforcement body when it comes to online privacy. But again, because of Title II, that authority as it applies to ISP’s has been carved out. We haven’t had those protections for the past two years. We’re going to get more privacy protections as a result of this vote,” said Carr.
One of the great fears of those opposed to the current FCC plan is that rolling back net neutrality would give too much power to internet service providers. For example, they’re concerned providers could force you to use their products as a condition of being a customer and then jack up prices as much as they wish.
Carr says he’s heard that concern but doesn’t think there’s much evidence that it will happen. He says net neutrality did nothing for the price of internet service.
“Title II is not the thin line between where we are today and some of those stories that you’re talking about, price regulation for instance. Title II, right now, is not directing the prices ISP’s charge. Title II is not stopping them from offering bundled services or a curated internet experience.
“We didn’t see it before Title II. We’re not seeing it during Title II. There’s other reasons for that, including competition, fear of subscriber loss from engaging in that conduct. Those other reasons that we’re not seeing will stay in place after Title II. It’s a misplaced view of what Title II is doing right now,” said Carr.
Carr believes all sides will benefit from the government taking more of a hands-off approach to the internet.
“I don’t think there’s going to be a downside after moving forward with this. I think ISP’s are going to continue to invest, consumers are going to continue to have a free and open internet. And the edge providers – like NetFlix, Twitter and Facebook – are also going to continue to be able to benefit from a free and open internet,” said Carr.