Trump picks strike fear into net neutrality backers

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Two of President-elect Donald Trump’s appointments to his transition team are sparking fears among net neutrality supporters that the internet rules are on the chopping block.

Trump has tapped tech experts Jeff Eisenach and Mark Jamison, two critics of net neutrality, to head his transition team for the Federal Communications Commission.

{mosads}The rule, which requires internet service providers to treat all traffic equally, has been one of the most contentious issues under FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Republicans have long blasted the rule. But Democrats have rallied behind net neutrality, which is a centerpiece of President Obama’s tech legacy and survived a fierce court challenge.

Trump has vowed to push a sweeping antiregulatory agenda across the board, and both sides in the net neutrality debate say his transition team picks signal trouble for the internet rules.

“I think these guys tend to want to rely more on market forces than on regulation,” said Hal Singer, senior fellow at George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center.

“l do think the appointment of Eisenach and Jamison is an indication that President-elect Trump is serious about achieving communications policy reform, including curtailing the reach of the agency’s net neutrality,” Randolph May, president of free market think tank the Free State Foundation told USA Today.

Eisenach and Jamison have a long history of opposing the internet rules.

Eisenach, previously a visiting fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI), has long lobbied against the rule. In 2014, he testified against it before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

In his testimony, he accused supporters of the net neutrality, like content providers, of trying to use regulation to unfairly gain an edge over internet service providers.

“[Net neutrality is] an effort by one set of private interests to enrich itself by using the power of the state to obtain free services from another — a classic example of what economists term ‘rent seeking,’ ” Eisenach told lawmakers at the hearing.

He’s also consulted for Verizon, a notable opponent of the net neutrality rules. Eisenach declined to speak with The Hill for this story.

Jamison, also affiliated with AEI, has shared his criticisms of the rules. He’s even called for scrapping the FCC and accused Wheeler of bringing politics into his decisions.

“I teach regulation all over the world,” Jamison, who directs the Public Utility Research Center at the University of Florida, told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “The biggest fight is always to keep politics out of what’s supposed to be an independent agency.”

Trump, to be certain, still has not tapped a pick to run the FCC or other key tech agencies. But Jamison and Eisenach’s track record has tech experts like Doug Brake, a telecom policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation’s (ITIF), betting that at least some portion of the rule will be scaled back under the Trump administration.

Brake singled out the Title II provision, one of the most debated parts of net neutrality. Title II long applied to telecommunications services, but the FCC used the language to also give it powers over broadband providers, allowing it to enforce net neutrality.

That move sparked controversy with even some supporters of net neutrality principles questioning the agency’s interpretation.

“I think first and foremost the result of the Republican Administration is that Title II has a big target on its back,” said Brake.

Brake’s organization, the ITIF, supports removing Title II but supports net neutrality overall.

“What exactly net neutrality will be is overall is up in the air,” he said, cautioning against further changes to the rule.

“My concern is if the Republicans pivot and the pendulum spins in the other direction,” he said about net neutrality.

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