Trump-appointed Federal Communications Commission Chair Ajit Pai said on Tuesday, Feb. 28 that net neutrality rules were "a mistake," and that the FCC is now "on track" to correct that by reverting to a lighter style of regulation.
During a speech in the Mobile World Congress on Feb. 28, Pai highlighted how the broadband market became marred with uncertainty because of net neutrality.
New FCC Chair Opts For Light-Touch Regulation
"Our new approach injected tremendous uncertainty into the broadband market," he said. "And uncertainty is the enemy of growth."
Pai is a longtime holdout of a pre-net neutrality playing field, having voted against the rules in 2015. Pai hasn't exactly specified plans to trash net neutrality rules that have been set in place by the chair preceding him, but his speech suggests — albeit ambiguously — that net neutrality is in danger of an entire collapse.
"We are confident in the decades-long, cross-party consensus on light-touch internet regulation ... and we are on track to returning to that successful approach," he said, offering a torch-passing analogy between the previous chair and himself.
Pai argues that internet service providers, or ISPs, were functioning just fine pre-net neutrality rules, and that newer rules have taken a toll on investment. His arguments, according to The Verge, is up for some serious debate. That's because there's insignificant competition between the wired broadband market and, according to an investigation on investment claims in early 2016 by Consumerist, investment wasn't waning — ISPs were allegedly going to shell out more investments in the succeeding year.
Pai says that the commission's approval of zero-rating schemes is why the major carriers are now jostling with each other to lure customers using unlimited plans and offers. But zero-rating schemes have no correlation in the plans at all, aside from video compression in some cases. All major networks are coughing up unlimited data plans because Tom Wheeler, previous FCC chair, maintained competition for them, putting in place clear rules for the networks to follow.
Why Net Neutrality Is Important
Net neutrality is important to a lot of companies. Content providers such as Google, Netflix, and a myriad of others are in favor of the FCC using its power to uphold and protect an open internet. ISPs, however, balk at the regulations. Under the rules, ISPs can't set policies that set up the internet in a tiered way. For instance, imagine Netflix having to pay Comcast to get priority speeds compared with Amazon Prime Video.
Through this — with huge content providers having no choice but to succumb to ISPs lest they lose customers — smaller independent content providers become helpless in the face of potentially mounting costs, and it gives freedom for ISPs to control bandwidth and in turn give it away for a price.
Pai, however, keeps on painting a bleak picture of net neutrality, suggesting that classifying the internet as a utility is a backward approach.
"Rules developed to tame a 1930s monopoly were imported into the 21st century to regulate the internet," said Pai, regarding net neutrality rules as "last-century" regulation.
It's just been a little over a month that Pai has been the FCC chairman, but in that time, hazards to the prospects of an open internet have already wormed their way in: by him approving zero-rating, scaling back rules about transparency, or halting some elements of ISPs's privacy requirements.