In remarks to the Mobile World Congress (MWC) this week in Barcelona, Spain, new Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai suggested that his agency would do its best to roll back net neutrality.
“Two years ago, the United States deviated from our successful, light-touch approach,” read his prepared remarks. “The FCC decided to apply last-century, utility-style regulation to today’s broadband networks. Rules developed to tame a 1930s monopoly were imported into the 21st century to regulate the Internet.”
Pai is referring specifically to Title II, an FCC regulation that prevents Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from engaging in paid prioritization (hence the term ‘net neutrality’). In other words, the agency expressly forbids ISPs from offering Websites or services such as Netflix a “fast lane” for their traffic. Title II supporters argue that, without the regulation in place, ISPs would discriminate against rivals; for example, a carrier such as Verizon could allow certain services to stream video at superior speeds, putting others at an unfair disadvantage.
Title II is part of the Communications Act of 1934, hence Pai’s reference to taming a “1930s monopoly.” He also believes the regulation is unnecessary, as the United States is not “a digital dystopia.”
Indeed, Pai believes that the FCC’s current policies are holding back investment in broadband, most notably 5G. “After the FCC embraced utility-style regulation, the United States experienced the first-ever decline in broadband investment outside of a recession,” his remarks continued. “In fact, broadband investment remains lower today than it was when the FCC changed course in 2015. And we have seen much concern about whether the FCC would permit or ban service plans.”
In place of the current setup, Pai wants what he terms “light-touch” regulation, which he frames as targeting “real problems” as opposed to implementing “preemptive regulations.” What exactly that will look like at this early stage, however, is anyone’s guess.
For many Web companies, the FCC’s position on net neutrality is obviously a huge deal. Depending on the details, the implementation of an “Internet fast lane” could translate into real expenses for some firms—either because they need to pay to “drive” on one, or because other companies in that lane will make competition even fiercer.