From opening our public land to commercial interests, green-lighting the Keystone XL pipeline, approving the Italian oil giant Eni SpA’s plan to drill exploratory wells in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska, we are only beginning to get a taste of how far President Donald Trump and company will go to privatize the public sector.
One government agency charged specifically with protecting public interest is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
Since Trump named Ajit Pai his FCC chair, the agency charged with defending the airwaves against corporate rule has been surreptitiously whittling away at its established mission.
Net neutrality regulations prohibit internet service providers (ISPs) from blocking or slowing down selected websites. Democrats and consumer advocates argue weakening those rules puts in place the potential for ISPs to abuse their position as gatekeepers between customers and the World-Wide Web.
In May, the FCC voted two-to-one to begin unraveling a key 2015 decision by former President Barack Obama protecting consumers’ internet content in favor of relaxing regulations on internet service providers, the first stage in dismantling net neutrality regulations.
States immediately retaliated, threatening to enact laws to prevent ISPs from blocking, abating, or discriminating against online content.
Earlier this month, telecommunications giant Comcast met with Chairman Ajit Pai’s staff in an attempt to prevent it.
Comcast urged the FCC to ignore its existing enforcement regulation and defer instead to the Federal Trade Commission, creating a “voluntary” net neutrality system in which ISPs would encounter no rules and be permitted to choose whether or not to honor net neutrality commitments.
Comcast isn’t the first to petition the FCC about this.
Verizon also asked the FCC to preempt any state laws regulating network neutrality and broadband privacy.
Current FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wants states to be “barred from enacting their own privacy burdens on what is by all means an interstate information service.”
Former Republican FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell echoed that sentiment before a Congressional committee late last month, saying:
“The FCC should use its ample statutory authority to preempt states and localities to promote flexible and clear national rules that protect consumers and markets alike.”
He cited a “disturbing trend” in which:
“States and localities have tried to regulate many aspects of the broadband market, potentially creating a confusing and innovation-killing patchwork of local laws governing both the economics of the Internet and consumer privacy.”
The FCC has some preemption power; however, John Bergmayer, senior counsel for the consumer advocacy group Public Knowledge, told Ars:
“[Preemption power] does not mean that the FCC has the authority to preempt everything relating to broadband at all. It is fairly clear, for instance, that the FCC cannot preempt state efforts around consumer protection, even when the product in question is broadband. If the FCC has no power to regulate, it has no power to preempt. Title II is all about legal authority. Trying to disclaim authority to regulate while simultaneously preempting seems somewhat paradoxical.”
If FCC Chair Pai wishes to preempt states’ rights, he had better be prepared for a prolonged legal fight that would delay any changes at least several months.
The FCC must ask for public comment on proposed changes, but Pai’s net neutrality proposal failed to solicit such input pertaining to preempting state net neutrality laws.
The final net neutrality rules proposal could be announced later this month, and voted on at the FCC’s December 14 meeting.
Image credit: commondreams.org