US Federal Communications Commission chair Ajit Pai (pictured) addressed public concerns about a plan to repeal net neutrality regulations, reassuring consumers “we aren’t giving anybody a free pass”.
In a statement, Pai indicated the move will not leave internet service providers unregulated, but instead return oversight to “America’s premier consumer protection agency”, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
“Many critics don’t seem to understand that we are moving from heavy-handed regulation to light-touch regulation, not a completely hands-off approach,” he said: “We are simply shifting from one-size-fits-all pre-emptive regulation to targeted enforcement based on actual market failure or anticompetitive conduct.”
If companies engage in “unfair, deceptive or uncompetitive” practices, the FTC will be able to take enforcement action. Pai indicated acting FTC chair Maureen Ohlhausen will release additional details about the FTC’s oversight plan “soon”.
Refuting restriction rumors
Pai’s comments came in response to a public outcry which followed the introduction of his proposal to repeal the US net neutrality rules. The regulations, as they currently stand, prohibit internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritising internet content. After Pai’s announcement, many worried the lack of net neutrality rules would allow internet service providers to charge separately for access to certain websites, search engines or social media, or otherwise restrict access to content.
In an opinion article in the LA Times, FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel warned repeal would allow providers to “carve internet access into fast and slow lanes, favouring the traffic of online platforms that have made special payments and consigning all others to a bumpy road”.
But Pai pointed out the current rules already allow for “curated” internet packages. He added providers aren’t offering those packages now and they “likely won’t offer such packages in the future” because consumers “by and large don’t want them”.
Rather than restricting internet access, Pai argued repeal of the net neutrality regulations will actually broaden access by spurring investment from broadband providers. As things stand, the regulations are discouraging the “very small providers and new entrants that are best positioned to bring additional competition into the marketplace,” he said.
More than 22 million public comments have been filed in the FCC’s net neutrality repeal proceeding. The commission is scheduled to vote on Pai’s proposal on 14 December.