New FCC Chairman Sets His Sites on Killing Net Neutrality

2 minute read
| Analysis

Net neutrality has just been put on notice. The Trump administration’s new Federal Communication Commission chairman is Ajit Pai‚ who openly opposed the Open Internet Order and isn’t a fan of broadband privacy regulations.

Net Neutrality faces Republican opposition

New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai wants to kill net neutrality

Mr. Pai has served on the Commission since 2012 and has been part of the Republican minority until now. With Democrat Tom Wheeler out, Mr. Pai is now one of two Republicans in the three-person group. Mr. Trump can nominate two more people for the Commission to round it out to its usual five. Historically that nomination includes a Democrat and Republican.

Net neutrality is the concept that data should be able to flow through internet service providers without restrictions. The current regulations in the Open Internet Order prohibit ISPs from from blocking or degrading data passing through their networks.

Imagine an ISP that’s also a TV content provider blocking Netflix streams, or charging an extra fee for Netflix video data on its network. Without net neutrality, ISPs could also control search results, limiting subscribers to seeing only what they approve.

Pai’s anti-net neutrality history

Opposing net neutrality isn’t anything new for Mr. Pai. He voted against reclassifying internet service providers as Title II carriers in 2015, and said the change showed the FCC was “turning its back on Internet freedom.”

Now he’s in a position to push back the net neutrality regulations put in place under Tom Wheeler, and it looks like that’s exactly what he plans to do. He made his intentions clear last month during a speech where he said,

We need to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation, and job creation.

From his standpoint, FCC regulations ensuring an open internet are contrary to business growth. Mr. Pai’s position is in line with Mr. Trump who wants to remove as many business-related regulations as he can.

Former FCC Chairman Wheeler used his final public speech before the new Presidential administration took over to champion net neutrality one last time. “The overarching goal of the new policies was to promote a thriving broadband ecosystem,” he said. “And that’s exactly what has happened.”

He went on to say that killing off net neutrality isn’t as simple as issuing a counter-order shutting it down. There’s a process that includes public comment, and those opposing the Open Internet Order need to show how it has failed.

That won’t be an easy task considering internet activity seems to be healthy and related businesses have been growing over the past two years since the introduction of the Open Internet Order. Still, it’s a safe bet if Mr. Pai wants to kill net neutrality bad enough—and he has the backing of Republican lawmakers—its days are numbered.

[Thanks to the LA Times for the heads up]

13 Comments Add a comment

  1. brilor

    Then again government-imposed equality via net neutrality isn’t convincing either. ISPs and the companies that control the Internet backbone infrastructure that knits everything together do not have the power to pick winners and losers. Consumers decide what products and services are successful because we adopt and pay for them. If an ISP blocks some service ( say NetFlix ) because of the bandwidth it requires, consumers who want Netflix will take their business elsewhere. If enough people do so, the ISP will have to change policies or go out of business. I believe the former chief economist for the FCC, Thomas Hazlett, pointed out( here ) in Time, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn (and many more success stories of innovation) all emerged without the benefit of net neutrality.

  2. geoduck

    What do pickpockets, Con Men, and Magicians have in common?

    They make a big show with the left hand. They get everyone to look at the left hand. While the right is stealing your wallet.

    So while Trump has been getting all the press with his claims about the press lying about the number of people at his inauguration, while he’s been getting the press in a flutter about his claims of millions of illegal voters for Clinton. What has his right hand been doing? Getting his gang of thugs and cutthroats approved by Congress. Case in point someone that does not believe in net neutrality or privacy for Federal Communication Commission chairman.

    And brilor: No Linkedin, Facebook, and all the rest thrived BECAUSE of net neutrality. Otherwise Verizon would have their social networks, their movie streaming services, their set of web sites you can visit. AT&T would have their own, Comcast another. Without Net Neutrality, the internet in the US dies.

  3. archimedes

    Cable companies that provide phone service (Comcast) want to nonsensically claim that they are not phone companies and should not be regulated the same way other phone companies (AT&T) are.

    If Mr. Pai is truly in AT&T’s pocket, he should support reclassification as it helps level the playing field between legacy phone companies and cable phone companies.

  4. archimedes

    Network non-neutrality can certainly be obnoxious: ISPs blocking bitTorrent; Comcast intentionally creating congestion at peering points in order to extort money from Netflix; etc..

    However, applications could benefit from different types of network service which might not be permitted under a strict net neutrality regime, such as:

    – low-latency, low constant bandwidth connections to improve online gaming and IP telephony
    – low-latency, low average bandwidth with high-speed bursts to improve web browsing
    – high-latency, high-bandwidth connections for huge downloads (software updates) and uploads (backups)

    etc..

    Ideally customers would be able to order different classes of service and select between them as needed to provide the best service for each use case.

  5. archimedes

    One thing that many people may not know is that TV and movie studios have actually worsened the problem of stuttering, poor quality, and rebuffering in Netflix. Rebuffering is minimized (and/or quality maximized) when you simply download as much of the show or movie as you can, as fast as you can. Then if your network dies, everything keeps playing because you’ve already downloaded the whole thing! However, because of concerns about unlicensed archiving and distribution, studios have historically limited the Netflix client to 100 MB or less (IIRC – about 3 minutes of HD video.) This means that it can’t download the whole thing as soon as it can, and if your network dies (for more than the buffered time) then you are out of luck. What’s sad is that a non-technical issue actually damaged the technology, though that’s common with DRM schemes. And as usual it’s paying customers who are hit with this.

    The good news is that with Netflix supporting offline viewing, it may indicate that the studios have softened their stance somewhat and that Netflix clients may be able to buffer much more of each video, improving quality and reducing stuttering and rebuffering.

  6. paikinho

    Perhaps Apple could just buy out Comcast or a couple of other ISP’s and set a Standard that other ISP’s would be impelled to follow in order to compete. That would settle that.

  7. Paul Goodwin

    This band forming under Trump are the scariest bunch I’ve witnessed ever. Anyone who thinks that band of billionaires will do anything at all to help the average joe has been duped beyond comprehension. They talk about making America great and getting more job. Meanwhile, they’ve pretty much bought their way into every position.

    This guy will be out to help grow business all right. If he gets his way, the Internet will be a mess. Only the naive think that they’ll get a better internet with more choices. The unregulated big boys will swallow the little guys until there’s virtually no choices, the prices will skyrocket, and to get the services you want, you’ll have to pay multiple ISPs.

  8. Jamie

    It didn’t take long. For what it’s worth, any republican candidate would have done the same, though it’s tragic IMHO. Hoping that ‘long process’ proves untenable and we stay on course. In my opinion the next step to further net neutrality is to make our online and offline rights equal. Fighting for our right to privacy and keeping the web open and free (as in freedom) feels like the last stand to me. It blows my mind how much ‘innovation’ has dragged us backward decades in many ways, I don’t want the web to be 21st century cable tv with zero regulations.

  9. jfbiii

    If an ISP blocks some service ( say NetFlix ) because of the bandwidth it requires, consumers who want Netflix will take their business elsewhere.

    As furbies points out, many (most likely “most people”) live in areas where municipalities or other governments have constrained access to a single provider who holds an effective local monopoly on wired access. THIS is why internet access should be treated as a public utility.

    There should be no mistaking intent here: killing net neutrality is about three things:

    1. extracting direct payments from content providers to ensure that their content is delivered either a) unmolested or b) at a better-performing service tier

    2. extracting direct payments from consumers to ensure that specific content from providers who may or may not already be paying the isp are delivered either a) unmolested or b) at a better-performing service tier

    3. providing a non-competitive advantage to ISP-provided services that compete with established market leaders by making those options cheaper and delivered at a better-performing service tier

    The sad part is that the creation of multiple service tiers is wholly artificial and solely a means to artificially inflate the cost of providing a utility service to consumers.

  10. brilor

    And what if you live in an area that has only one ISP ?

    Nobody wants a monopoly but it’s not clear net neutrality improves that situation. Personally, I’m not knowledgeable enough on this topic to solve it, so I’m neutral. However, I can see both sides of the argument. My ISP has infrastructure update needs that cost lots of money. With net neutrality, my ISP’s cost for supporting some streaming service is passed on to me even though I might not use that service. A very readable discussion can be found here

  11. archimedes

    “The sad part is that the creation of multiple service tiers is wholly artificial and solely a means to artificially inflate the cost of providing a utility service to consumers.”

    I won’t argue that ISPs don’t want to artificially inflate costs, but it is a mistake to ignore the legitimate and beneficial technical (non-business, non-malicious) reasons for different classes of service, due to the differing requirements of network applications and the queuing behavior in network switches. Some applications such as games and telephony don’t require huge bandwidth but benefit greatly from reduced latency. They are well served by a class of service with short queues – and thus shorter queuing latency (queuing latency being the amount of time packets spend in queues.) Moreover, packets that are late should simply be dropped rather than retransmitted, as they are of no use at a later date. (For this reason, games and live telephony protocols often use UDP rather than TCP.)

    On the other hand, other applications such as video streaming, software update downloads, and backups, require huge bandwidth, are relatively insensitive to latency, and benefit from larger queues in order to maximize bandwidth and statistical multiplexing while minimizing dropped packets and costly retransmissions. A dropped frame in a streamed video that isn’t live television is both unnecessary and undesirable, and even a few dropped packets can cause a drastic drop in the data rate of a TCP connection, potentially requiring annoying rebuffering and/or a downgrade in video quality.

    If a switch treats all IP packets equally, we may end up getting the worst of both worlds. We use medium-sized queues which lead to both higher latency for games and telephony and reduced bandwidth for video streaming/downloads/backups!

    It’s frustrating that few participants in the network neutrality debate seem willing or able to explain (or perhaps even understand) the technical issues involved. A neutral network that treats all packets identically is likely to provide a poorer experience for end users than one that treats packets appropriately based on application requirements. In short, a non-neutral network may provide a better end-user experience while improving network efficiency and lowering costs (which probably won’t result in lower service charges, but at least the service gets better.) However, even if the network treats different classes of traffic differently, it is important that ISPs don’t get to pick winners and losers in the same application space, for example blocking Netflix and BItTorrent while providing high bandwidth to their own video service.

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