Net Neutrality Rule to Get Scrutiny From FCC Republicans ‘Soon’By
Commissioners forming majority pledge fresh look at rule
Pai and O’Rielly laid out their plan in letter to trade groups
Republicans poised to control the Federal Communications Commission next month said they’d revisit the net neutrality regulation “as soon as possible,” laying out plans to address a rule they’ve opposed and that Democrats support.
The statement Monday from Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly indicates that opponents of the rule such as top broadband providers AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. may not need to wait for Congress to grapple with the regulation that requires equal treatment of web traffic. Web companies such as Netflix Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have supported the rule backed by Democratic President Barack Obama.
The FCC’s Democratic Chairman, Tom Wheeler, is leaving office as President-elect Donald Trump takes office Jan. 20, and his departure adds to vulnerability for the rule passed with only Democratic votes last year. As his tenure ends, Wheeler’s FCC is citing the net neutrality rule as a basis for questioning the free-data wireless plans offered by Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T.
The net neutrality rule forbids internet service providers from blocking or slowing rivals’ content. Companies such as AT&T, Verizon and the cable industry sued to block the rule, saying it gave the agency too much authority.
They lost that case but some Republicans have vowed to take up the cause and overturn the regulation when they have control of Congress, the White House and the FCC.
Pai and O’Rielly laid out their plan in a Monday letter to trade groups concerned with shielding small businesses from portions of the net neutrality rule that require internet service providers to divulge details about network performance, including speed, delays and dropped information. The businesses said it takes expensive equipment to meet that demand.
The Republican commissioners said they wouldn’t support action against small business internet service providers for “supposed non-compliance” with the disclosure rules. “We will seek to revisit those particular requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible,” the two commissioners wrote. Title II refers to a section of law used as the basis for FCC authority for the net neutrality rule.
Mark Wigfield, an FCC spokesman, declined to comment on the letter.
Pai and O’Rielly will form the FCC’s two-member majority when Trump assumes office because the agency will have three members -- two short of full strength. New members will be nominated by Trump and confirmed by the Senate, a process that typically takes months.
Both Republicans have been staunch opponents of the net neutrality rule.
In a speech Dec. 7, Pai said that he was unsure whether the rule would be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by the FCC. He said he was sure the rule’s days are numbered.
O’Rielly greeted the June court decision affirming the law with a statement saying, “We all will rue the day the commission was confirmed to have nearly unmitigated power over the internet.” He said the FCC “ran roughshod” over statute and precedent in a quest for a political victory.