Image: CQ Roll Call via AP Images
For dorks like myself, watching the Federal Communications Commission doesn’t get much better than this.
Let’s start with the fun stuff. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai is reportedly starting his promised assault on net neutrality rules. The move is already causing concern in the tech industry and mobilizing activists groups to stage an opposition.
That opposition started on Thursday with an in-person Rick Roll. Props to the lyrics "we wouldn’t sign to any other Pai."
Pai, being a good sport, seemed into it (and it sounds like sang along a bit).
That’s the fun, now on to the disconcerting part of the day.
The FCC, also during the meeting shown above, voted to remove limits on how much internet providers can charge small businesses as well as other institutions such as schools and libraries.
The concern here is that (like most consumers), many of these institutions don’t have much of a choice in who provides their internet, meaning that whatever company operates their service could raise prices without worrying about competition. This kind of problem is often addressed by regulations on prices.
Pai doesn’t see it like that. His FCC argued that there is competition among internet providers in most places. The new rules keep the price cap in place where there is not "sufficient competition."
"Sufficient competition" is the key here, as the FCC is defining that as having another provider within a half mile away. So in theory a library that only has one internet provider but is within a few blocks of another operators network would have sufficient competition.
Critics pointed to the rules as a blatant example of relaxing rules to benefit internet providers. Mignon Clyburn, the lone Democratic commissioner, staged an aggressive dissent.
The @FCC’s BDS dereg order is a 186 page all-out assault on America’s small businesses, schools and local economies. I vociferously dissent.
— Mignon Clyburn (@MClyburnFCC) April 20, 2017
Thursday’s vote adds to numerous recent moves by the FCC that have alarmed (but not surprised) critics. Pai’s appointment to the chairman signaled a very different path from the one put in place by Barack Obama. That FCC (under Tom Wheeler) put in place strong net neutrality rules and a variety of other consumer-friendly protections — just about all of which Pai loudly disagreed with.
Most notable among those issues was net neutrality, which he is reportedly planning to gut. Aside from that and Thursday’s internet price cap, he also pushed for Congress to repeal broadband data privacy rules.