Reactions to FCC Chairman Pai's Net Neutrality Proposal

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai revealed his plans for rolling back network neutrality rules during a speech at the Newseum in Washington, DC. Chairman Pai said he plans to hand regulatory jurisdiction of broadband providers back to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Chairman Pai's much-anticipated speech outlining next steps on net neutrality regulation drew immediate response from inside and outside the Beltway.

Adrianne Furniess, Executive Director of the Benton Foundation: "It is always a sad day when government regulators choose commercial interests over the public interest. When the FCC’s net neutrality rules were adopted in February 2015, the Benton Foundation proclaimed them 'the greatest commitment ever made to preserve and protect an open and free Internet.' Today, FCC Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly celebrated their latest moves to favor large Internet service providers over the American values of access and equity, democracy and diversity, opportunity and innovation. The message I heard from the commissioners and other speakers: 'No one is against net neutrality; we’re just against any rules to ensure it.' Chairman Pai’s plan is not what the American people want or are asking for. Americans want to employ any legal applications, content, devices, and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they rely on. Americans want the Internet to remain a platform for all consumers, content creators, and innovators, regardless of their ability to pay infrastructure owners special fees for special access. I am sure the American people will tell Chairman Pai and Commissioner O’Rielly what they want. I hope the commissioners will listen."

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-SD), House Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR), Senate Communications Subcommittee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), and House Communications Subcommittee Chairman Marsha Blackburn (R-TN): “We have long said that imposing a Depression-era, utility-style regulatory structure onto the internet was the wrong approach, and we applaud Chairman Pai’s efforts to roll back these misguided regulations. Consumers want an open internet that doesn’t discriminate on content and protects free speech and consumer privacy. It’s now time for Republicans and Democrats, internet service providers, edge providers, and the internet community as a whole to come together and work toward a legislative solution that benefits consumers and the future of the internet.”

Sen Amy Klobuchar (D-MN): “As a supporter of a free and open internet, I am disappointed that Chairman Pai is taking steps to roll back net neutrality protections for consumers. The protections that are in place today are working. They hold internet service providers accountable to the expectations consumers have for internet access while protecting innovation and competition. I will oppose any actions that take us in the wrong direction.”

FTC Acting Chairman Ohlhausen: “I welcome Chairman Pai’s announcement as an important step toward restoring the FTC’s ability to protect broadband subscribers from unfair and deceptive practices, including violations of their privacy. Those consumer protections were an unfortunate casualty of the FCC’s 2015 decision to subject broadband to utility-style regulation. I look forward to working with Chairman Pai and other stakeholders to return to broadband subscribers the consumer protections they deserve.”

Michael Copps, former FCC chair and current Common Cause special advisor: “By re-opening the FCC’s historic 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC is jeopardizing core protections for online free speech and competition. Chairman Pai appears more interested in currying favor with cable and telecom industry lobbyists than in serving the millions of Americans who wrote and called to urge the commission, during the original rulemaking, to provide strong protections against online blocking, throttling, or censorship. Ending net neutrality would be a body blow to the open dialogue upon which successful self-government depends. It would be a red light for democracy and a green light for cable and telecom giants to control where we go and what we do on the internet. The FCC, Congress, and President Trump are risking the wrath of millions of Americans who depend daily on affordable access to the open internet."

Ryan Clough, General Counsel at Public Knowledge: “If enacted, Chairman Pai’s plan would dismantle the legal foundation of the Open Internet. Title II gives the FCC clear authority to enforce fundamental principles of non-discrimination, user control, and permissionless innovation. Pai’s proposal would throw all of the current net neutrality rules into doubt. Pai claims that internet openness was already protected prior to the classification of broadband service under Title II. But he conveniently ignores the preceding decade of history, during which net neutrality principles were periodically violated by ISPs, and where the FCC struggled to enforce net neutrality principles outside of Title II, losing repeatedly in the courts. Chairman Pai claims to be for a free and open internet, but he didn’t say in his speech which net neutrality protections, if any, he plans to retain. However, it’s already clear that Pai’s proposal will transfer power from consumers to the broadband monopolies, giving them more room to act as gatekeepers, standing between internet users and their choice of online applications and services. Under Pai’s vision, the internet would be increasingly governed by an opaque web of secret commercial arrangements between the big ISPs and major internet services, all in the name of promoting ‘investment.’ The broadband monopolies would have far more latitude to favor their own vertically-integrated content and services over competitors. This proposal is Washington policymaking at its worst -- an alignment of government regulators with dominant industry interests. And it’s particularly unfortunate to hear the Chairman of the FCC deploy fact-free rhetoric about supposed ‘government control over the internet’ -- a baseless distortion of the actual issues at stake in this debate. Telephone providers are, and will continue to be, regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, but the government doesn’t control your conversations and doesn’t let anyone else interfere in your conversations. From the beginning, the internet was designed to give control to the user -- to decentralize power away from any single network owner. This openness and freedom has been the foundation of the internet’s growth and success, to the point that many now take it for granted. However, Chairman Pai’s speech makes clear that, if Americans want to keep effective protections for the open internet, they will have to fight for them.”

Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs at the National Hispanic Media Coalition:"Moving forward with Chairman Pai’s plan would be a loss for Americans everywhere. Dismantling net neutrality opens the door for corporations to limit free expression, organizing efforts, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship by imposing a new toll to access information online. It would also undermine the ability of low-income Americans to get and stay online, as the Lifeline Program that supports broadband discounts would also be jettisoned in Pai’s vision to make the internet work for giant Internet Service Providers, at the expense of consumers. For Latinos and other people of color, who have long been misrepresented or underrepresented by traditional media outlets, an open internet is the primary destination for our communities to share our stories in our own words–without being blocked by powerful gatekeepers motivated by profit. For all of us, the right to communicate freely online is at risk and millions will raise their voices against Pai’s plan to reverse our collective work to affirm net neutrality and extend the Lifeline Program to a greater number of people.”

World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee: "When I invented the web, I didn’t have to ask anyone for permission, and neither did America’s successful internet entrepreneurs when they started their businesses. To reach its full potential, the internet must remain a permissionless space for creativity, innovation and free expression. In today's world companies can't operate without internet, and access to it is controlled by just a few providers. The FCC's announcements today suggest they want to step back and allow concentrated market players to pick winners and losers online. Their talk is all about getting more people connected, but what is the point if your ISP only lets you watch the movies they choose, just like the old days of cable?"

Joshua Stager, policy counsel at New America’s Open Technology Institute: “This is a solution in search of a problem. The internet economy is doing quite well—investment is up, job growth is strong, and small businesses are innovating. Chairman Pai’s proposal throws all of that into disarray, creating the one thing we know businesses don’t like: uncertainty. Without strong net neutrality protections, consumers and commerce are vulnerable. Venture capitalists will be disinclined to invest in new companies that depend on the internet to reach customers — which, in today’s market, is virtually every business. This is why hundreds of startups issued a letter today asking Pai to preserve the Open Internet Order. Chairman Pai and his allies in Congress should listen to small businesses and leave the Open Internet Order alone. Furthermore, Chairman Pai was simply wrong when he said the internet wasn’t broken in 2015. In 2013 and 2014, the nation’s biggest ISPs—Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable—allowed their networks to become critically congested. Millions of Americans were frustrated by degraded speeds and unusable video connections—and they didn’t know why it was happening. In reality, their ISP was playing a dangerous congestion game to extract new payments from transit networks and edge providers. American internet users were just the collateral damage. For these millions of people, the internet was very much ‘broken.’ The FCC’s rules addressed this problem.”

Adonis Hoffman, chairman of Business in the Public Interest and former chief of staff to Democratic commissioner and former chair Mignon Clyburn: "The ongoing open internet debate should have spawned new thinking about government regulation by now, but it has not. Proponents of Title II are mired in their positions, and opponents have yet to come up with a compelling case that allays the fears."

ACLU Washington chief of staff Michael Macleod-Ball: “By proposing to arbitrarily reverse FCC’s 2015 decision to provide consumer protections against discriminatory ISP practices, Chairman Pai offers a slap in the face to the four million people who offered supportive comments to the original rulemaking adopting the protections. There is no defensible justification for such a move and the speed with which the action is being taken belies the naked political calculation at play.”

Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization arm of Consumer Reports: “Doing away with net neutrality rules could ultimately mean doing away with the internet as we know it. Net neutrality rules keep the internet open for all and ensure consumers can access the websites and apps they – not their internet service provider – choose. Rather than leveling the playing field to spur competition and innovation, Chairman Pai’s proposal would allow a select few corporations to choose winners and losers. The only way to ensure that all content is treated equally is to keep the the internet classified as a public utility. In this digital age, where individuals and businesses rely on the internet every day, it should no longer even be a question. Voluntary commitments from broadband providers to adhere to net neutrality ‘principles’ are simply not a substitute — especially when there would be no cop left on the beat with the authority to ensure providers stick to their promises. Millions of consumers voiced their support for net neutrality rules — the flood of public comments literally crashed the FCC’s website. Now we need the new Chairman to pay heed to the voice of the people, not just the voices of corporations. We will continue to fight for an open internet because it is essential to free speech, free access to information, and innovation and economic growth. Consumer activism was key to getting these rules passed and will be just as important, if not more, in protecting them now. We urge all consumers to make their voices heard and oppose these efforts."

NCTA president Michael Powell: “We welcome Chairman Pai’s announcement that he intends to reverse the prior FCC’s flawed decision that forced heavy-handed public utility regulation on today’s dynamic internet networks. Restoring the FCC’s traditional bipartisan ‘light-touch’ approach will reestablish a better framework to advance consumer protection and to support the continued growth and expansion of internet networks throughout America. Reversing the classification of internet services will not change the commitment of cable ISPs to provide an open internet experience for our customers. We do not block, throttle or otherwise interfere with consumers’ desire to go where they want on the internet. A more modern regulatory framework will not change our commitment to such practices. But consumers are best served by policies that encourage ongoing investment and innovation especially as technology changes, as network demands increase, and as we focus on closing the digital divide in every community across America. While we applaud and support Chairman Pai’s call to correct past mistakes through the rulemaking process, we are mindful that only Congress has the power to conclusively settle this debate and provide the FCC with clear authority to enforce specific open internet principles. We renew our support for bipartisan legislation that will end this decades-old legal controversy and permanently enshrine enforceable open internet principles in statute. Such action will allow everyone to move beyond endless partisan debate and allow our industry to focus on building the world-class networks that creates jobs and advances American prosperity.”

Charter chairman Tom Rutledge: “Charter’s support for an open internet is an integral part of our commitment to deliver a superior broadband experience to our customers. That will never change. FCC Chairman Pai today signaled a welcome and necessary step toward returning to the regulatory framework embraced by Democratic and Republican FCC’s for the past two decades. This framework allowed and will continue to allow the open internet to flourish, yet will also spur investment in and the deployment of the next generation of broadband.”

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson: “AT&T continues to support the fundamental tenets of net neutrality. And we remain committed to open internet protections that are fair and equal for everyone. The bipartisan, light-touch regulatory approach that Congress established at the internet's inception brought American consumers unparalleled investment in broadband infrastructure, created jobs and fueled economic growth. It was illogical for the FCC in 2015 to abandon that light-touch approach and instead regulate the Internet under an 80-year-old law designed to set rates for the rotary-dial-telephone era. We applaud FCC Chairman Pai’s initiative to remove this stifling regulatory cloud over the internet. Businesses large and small will have a clearer path to invest more in our nation's broadband infrastructure under Chairman Pai's leadership. And we are hopeful that bipartisan agreement can be reached on principles that protect internet openness, consumer choice and vibrant competition."

Verizon senior VP and deputy general counsel Kathy Grillo: “Verizon supports net neutrality policies that protect an open internet without discouraging competition and slowing job-generating investments," "We continue to believe that the right answer is for Congress to move forward on legislation that once and for all adopts clear, enforceable, and strong net neutrality protections. We stand ready to work with the FCC, Congress and the industry on an approach that provides strong consumer protections while also allowing companies the flexibility and certainty to innovate, increase investment and compete aggressively. We also support Chairman Pai’s proposal to roll back Title II utility regulation on broadband. Title II (or public utility regulation) is the wrong way to ensure net neutrality; it undermines investment, reduces jobs and stifles innovative new services. And by locking in current practices and players, it actually discourages the increased competition consumers are demanding."

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts:"We fully support reversal of Title II classification, a 1930s statute that is outdated and harms consumers by creating a cloud over broadband investment decisions and innovation. Chairman Pai's proposed reversal of Title II does not mean there will be no open Internet protections, but rather creates an environment where we can have a fresh constructive dialogue. To be clear, we continue to strongly support a free and open Internet and the preservation of modern, strong, and legally enforceable net neutrality protections. We don’t block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content delivered over the Internet, and we are committed to continuing to manage our business and network with the goal of providing the best possible consumer experience.”

American Cable Association President Matt Polka: "For smaller ISPs, most of whom operate in more rural areas, the costs of these rules are real and substantial," said "Their customers also are being harmed as smaller ISPs have put off network investments and are deferring, and even halting, the development of new features and services. The 2015 rules have turned out to be all pain and no gain. And so, Chairman Pai is more than justified in re-evaluating these misguided rules to better ensure an open Internet. ACA and its members will again participate in the proceeding and will again produce evidence that utility-style regulation is not warranted and not needed for the FCC to ensure that customers of smaller ISPs have continued access to an Open Internet."

Free State Foundation President Randolph May: "I applaud Chairman Pai's initiation of a proceeding to reverse the most problematic aspects of the Internet regulations adopted by the Obama Administration's FCC. The most important proposal is the elimination of the Title II common carrier classification for Internet providers because this designation subjected them to public utility-like regulation. Public utility regulation is inappropriate for a digital broadband marketplace that is competitive and dynamic. If left in place, I have no doubt that it will stifle innovation and investment."

Also see:
Ajit Pai's Speech Draws Immediate and Passionate Reaction (Multichannel News)
Title II-Rollback Comments, Take Two (Broadcasting and Cable)
Senate Dems Vow to Fight for Open Internet Order on All Fronts (Multichannel News)
ISPs Praise Pai's Title II Move (Multichannel News)


Ajit Pai's Speech Draws Immediate and Passionate Reaction (B&C) FCC Chairman Pai Announces Plan to Roll Back Net Neutrality Rules (Public Knowledge) ISPs Praise Pai's Title II Move (B&C) Acting Chairman Ohlhausen Welcomes FCC Action as Important Step to Restore FTC Consumer Protections (FTC) Chairman Pai’s Net Neutrality Plan Would Disadvantage Latinos, Allow Corporations to Rake in Greater Profit (NHMC) Verizon supports FCC proposal to remove outdated utility regulation of broadband (Verizon) AT&T Supports Internet Openness (AT&T) FCC Chairman’s Plan to Undo Net Neutrality Threatens the Future of the Internet (Consumers Union) Bicameral Leaders Comment on Pai’s Internet Regulations Announcement (Senate Commerce Committee) Trump’s FCC Chair Announces Plan to Dismantle Net Neutrality (New America) Title II-Rollback Comments, Take Two (B&C)