Week ahead in tech: FCC to vote on repealing landmark net neutrality rules

Week ahead in tech: FCC to vote on repealing landmark net neutrality rules
© Greg Nash

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will vote on Thursday to overturn its 2015 net neutrality rules, which require broadband providers to treat all internet traffic equally.

With Republicans controlling a majority of the commission's seats, the repeal is expected to pass 3-2 along party lines.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's (R) push to scrap the consumer protections has generated fierce opposition from Democrats and activists who argue that repealing the rules will give internet providers like Comcast and Verizon a free pass to block web content and force websites to pay for faster delivery.

Pai's opponents mounted a last-ditch effort to force the FCC to cancel the vote, pointing to evidence of fake comments submitted to the agency's public record.

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On Thursday, the agency rejected an inquiry from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to investigate whether stolen identities had been used to spam the docket with fake comments on the repeal proposal.

"As in many important rulemakings, this proceeding carries the potential for advocates on either side to abuse the process to create an appearance of numerical advantage," FCC general counsel Thomas Johnson wrote in a letter to Schneiderman. "But the Commission does not make policy decisions merely by tallying the comments on either side of a proposal to determine what position has greater support, nor does it attribute greater weight to comments based on the submitter's identity."

Pai's office has said that the vote will go on as planned.

The chairman argues that the FCC under the Obama administration overstepped when it imposed the rules and reclassified internet providers as telecommunications services, opening the industry up to tougher regulations.

He's also tried to assuage concerns about how the internet will fare in the absence of the rules. His order would give the Federal Trade Commission the ability to police internet service providers and prevent them from engaging in anticompetitive behavior. It would also require the industry to be transparent in how it treats web traffic.

But net neutrality supporters see the FCC's rules as essential to preventing broadband companies from abusing their power, and groups are already preparing lawsuits to overturn Pai's plan.

"The draft order seems to say that the FCC is no longer interested in exercising its responsibilities as an expert agency," Jonathan Sallet, who served as the FCC's general counsel when the rules were passed, told reporters on a call Wednesday.

"I do not believe a court of appeals will uphold this order," Sallet added.

There are a number of other items on the tech docket in the coming week, outside of the momentous net neutrality repeal vote.

On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on machine learning and artificial intelligence at 10 a.m.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing on the consumer welfare standard in antitrust regulation at 2:30 p.m.

It's an issue tech giants may be forced to confront in the coming years. Critics say companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon are too large, and want antitrust regulators to take a tougher approach.

The tech and telecom industries are closely watching the biggest antitrust fight of the moment: the Justice Department's lawsuit to block the proposed AT&T–Time Warner merger.

Across the Capitol, the House Judiciary Committee will mark up the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act of 2017 at 10 a.m. on Tuesday. The bill aims to crack down on online sex trafficking. A Senate panel approved companion legislation known as SESTA in the upper chamber after resistance from internet companies.

The House Committee on Foreign Affairs will hold a hearing Tuesday on the future of NAFTA at 2 p.m. — an issue the technology industry has been following closely.

 

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