Week ahead in tech: FCC chief forces net neutrality showdown

Week ahead in tech: FCC chief forces net neutrality showdown
© Getty

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is moving forward with his plan to roll back net neutrality, setting off a new fight over the controversial Obama-era rules.

Pai announced on Wednesday that the commission will take its first step at a May 18 meeting to repeal the regulations that require internet service providers to treat all traffic equally. The rules also reclassified internet service providers as common carriers, allowing the FCC to regulate them like public utilities.

The commissioners will vote at the meeting on soliciting comments from the public on whether to keep rules, the start of a long repeal process.

ADVERTISEMENT

And they may be in store for a massive response. When the FCC first debated whether to implement the rules in 2014, the agency was flooded with a record 4 million comments on the proposal.

Democrats and consumer advocates who back the rules are vowing an even bigger show of opposition.

"Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee are going to fight this every step of the way," Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) said during a press conference following Pai's announcement.

"And if you think 4 million comments to the FCC were a lot when we tried to implement this rule, wait until you see the comments coming into the FCC when they try to undo this rule."

But in a call with reporters on Thursday, senior FCC officials said they would not give much weight to an influx of comments in support of net neutrality, suggesting they intend to move full steam ahead.

"The comments process does not function as the equivalent of a public opinion survey or poll, and what matters is the quality of the argumentation presented, the facts that are entered into the record, the legal arguments that are placed into the record," an official said.

Pai has been making the rounds to lay out his case to conservative media outlets since making his announcement.

In the coming week, he'll continue his swing by heading to the Heritage Foundation on Monday and the American Enterprise Institute on Friday, to rally conservative opponents of the rules.

The chairman also has congressional Republicans at his side. Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) and a slew of GOP chairmen praised him after he unveiled his plans to undo the rules. But Democrats are vowing to fight back and rebuffing GOP calls to come to the table and work on a legislative fix on net neutrality.

Both sides agree undoing the rules will mean big changes for businesses and consumers, and both sides are digging in for the fight.

Net neutrality won't be the only issue on the docket as lawmakers race once again to meet a spending deadline and prevent a government shutdown after buying more time with a stopgap bill Friday.

In Congress on Wednesday, the Senate Commerce Committee will hold a hearing on broadband infrastructure, examining how to more efficiently deploy broadband capabilities to rural areas.

The following day, the Senate Appropriations' subpanel on Veterans Affairs will hold a hearing to discuss "focusing on leveraging technology to increase access, improve health outcomes, and lower costs," at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

On the House side, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday will hold a hearing to review the data breach on a financial aid tool that affected up to 100,000 taxpayers.

The next day, the Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will hold a hearing on "Improving the Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer Programs."