Net Neutrality - Time is Running Out

August 30, 2017

Lauren J. Coppola
Paige V. Schroeder

There are less than 24 hours left for the public to submit comments on the Federal Communications Commission’s (the “FCC”) proposal concerning net neutrality. Although the rebuttal period for comments was scheduled to end on August 16, 2017, the FCC extended the deadline by two weeks.  The FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (the “Proposal”) has received over twenty-two million comments since it was issued in May 2017.  Although some of those comments have been submitted by spam bots or are form letters, net neutrality is a controversial issue drawing strong opinions from tech and telecomm companies, to Republicans and Democrats.  
 
The Proposal represents the FCC’s efforts to rollback the net neutrality protections that were put in place in place in 2015 to guard the rights of internet users by classifying internet service providers (“ISPs”), like telephone companies, as common carries under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.  Such a classification permits the government to treat ISPs like public utilities and regulate internet access, infrastructure, and connections between companies.  Specifically, ISPs were ordered that they could not arbitrarily block websites, reduce service speed, or charge more for access to internet “fast lanes.”  The law prohibits Title II common carriers from making “any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services” and requires them to operate “in the public interest.”  The Proposal seeks to reclassify ISPs as Title I information services, which would allow ISPs to self-regulate.  
 
Notably, the tech advocacy group the Internet Association (which represents companies such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook) filed a 38-page comment in opposition to the FCC’s Proposal.  However, companies like Comcast and Verizon believe that the increased government regulation under the 2015 rules hinders their ability to invest in new technology for broadband networks, ultimately hurting customers.
 
Although there is a last minute effort driven by net neutrality advocacy groups to encourage the submission of comments to the FCC opposing the Proposal, reclassifying ISPs remains a top priority for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.  However, Chairman Pai has stated that a final decision on the Proposal will not happen until the end of this year or early next year.  
 

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