FCC releases official draft plan to scrap net neutrality and enable fast lanes

Ajit Pai, Chairman of U.S Federal Communications Commission, delivers his keynote speech at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 28, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday released a 58-page draft plan to reverse the landmark 2015 “net neutrality” order and disclosed the agency may withdraw “bright line” rules barring internet companies from blocking, throttling or giving “fast lanes” to some websites.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, appointed by Trump in January, disclosed his intent Wednesday to repeal the Obama era rules that reclassified internet service and tightly regulated providers as if they were utilities.

The FCC also plans to scrap the 2015 internet conduct standard and an ombudsman position created to hear complaints of net neutrality violations. The plan asks if network disclosure requirements should remain in force for internet providers.

Pai’s plan faces an initial May 18 vote. He wants public comment on whether the FCC should keep its “bright line” rules, and said his decision on the rules would depend partly on the comments the agency receives.

Websites such as Facebook, Alphabet and others back the rules, saying they guarantee equal access to the internet. Internet service providers such as AT&T, Verizon Communications and Comcast oppose the Obama order, saying they made it harder to manage internet traffic and discouraged investment in improving access.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Federal Trade Commissioner Terrell McSweeny opposed Pai’s plan, saying it “would allow broadband providers to erect barriers or charge tolls to any application, connected device, or website that the broadband providers’ customers want to reach. It would allow broadband providers to favour their own content over others, and pick winners and losers on the internet.”

Pai said the 2015 open internet rules were unnecessary because large internet providers did not block websites before they were imposed.

“We were not living in some digital dystopia before the partisan imposition of a massive plan hatched in Washington saved all of us,” Pai said Wednesday.

The FCC proposal seeks comment “on whether a codified no-blocking rule is needed to protect such freedoms.”

The order also asks whether a legal bar on throttling “is still necessary, particularly for smaller providers.” The proposal also questions the ban on “paid prioritization” that the proposal argues was adopted to “address an apparently nonexistent problem.”

AT&T said the question “is not whether the internet will remain open – it undoubtedly will. The question is how, as a country, we will regulate the internet ecosystem.”

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by David Gregorio)

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