FCC Inundated With 1.2 Million Comments on Net Neutrality
Chairman Ajit Pai has made it clear that he wants to undo Net Neutrality regulations passed by his predecessor, Chairman Tom Wheeler. In his first few weeks as chairman, Chairman Pai unravelled the so-called midnight regulations passed at the last minute by the Obama administration, and ended an investigation by the FCC into zero-rating streaming services. These were the first steps by Chairman Pai to pave the way for dismantling Net Neutrality rules. His efforts have not gone unnoticed.
Two weeks ago, the FCC submitted its proposal for a rollback of Obama-era open internet regulations. Per the FCC’s rules, the proposal was published for public inspection and opened for public comment. The initial reaction to the rules was fairly muted. Media outlets spent little time covering the issue. It all changed when one man tackled the subject head on, again.
John Oliver Tackles Net Neutrality, Again.
Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver broached the subject of net neutrality for the second time in three years. The first time he devoted his show to it, he caused a record number of people to comment on the rules change; 4 million to be exact. His new show, which aired last week, sought to repeat the success of his first airing on the subject. This week’s report on the number of comments made to the FCC have, unsurprisingly, shown that he once again inspired many to comment.
Part of Oliver’s show highlighted how changes to the FCC website have made it harder to comment on specific proposals. To aid his viewers to comment, he created the url “gofccyourself.com” which redirects directly to the comments page for the net neutrality rollback proposal. The night his show aired, the FCC’s website crashed. The agency attributed the crash to a cyberattack, a statement Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii want confirmed and proven.
Comments to FCC on pace with 2015
The most recent numbers on the volume of comments left by the public stood at 1.2 million in the first two weeks, on pace to exceed the 4 million comments left in 2015. But they are unlikely to sway the FCC’s vote on May 18 to move forward with the proposed rule-making due to the agency’s 2-1 conservative majority.
Chairman Pai remains undaunted by the volume of comments made to his agency. Last Friday, he quoted one comment from the 1.2 million submissions to support his cause. The comment, a letter by 19 municipal broadband providers who support Chairman Pai’s proposal, said the net neutrality rollback is “an exceptionally important contribution to the debate over restoring Internet freedom.”
“They told us that the FCC’s heavy-handed rules have led them to ‘often delay or hold off from rolling out a new feature or service,’” Pai said in a statement. “The fact that ISPs lacking any profit motive agree that eliminating Title II regulation will benefit consumers and promote innovation and investment is a powerful endorsement of reversing the FCC’s 2015 Title II Order.”
Chairman Pai’s proposal may face a legal challenge
Commissioner Pai’s net neutrality rollback proposal pans to return internet privacy regulations, responsible for regulating how internet providers collect and sell their consumers’ data, to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC lost its jurisdiction under the 2015 Open Internet Order. Under Pai’s new rules, therefore, internet privacy regulations would return to the pre-Open Internet Order era, except for the change in classification of ISP’s from Title I of the Communications Act to Title II.
The greatest legal hurdle facing Chairman Pai’s proposal is a 2016 U.S. Court of Appeals decision in FTC vs. AT&T Mobility, which prevents FTC regulation of internet providers if their parent company also owns an FCC-regulated telephone company. Luckily for Pai, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has agreed to rehear the case, giving Pai the possibility of eliminating this legal challenge to his new proposed rules. If the court upholds the legal decision, it would cause a tremendous amount of confusion in jurisprudence, which would require Congress to step in to sort it all out. That would create a long delay, and by extension a major headache for Chairman Pai, who hopes to repeal net neutrality regulations by next fall.
If Congress must step in, they are more inclined to view the millions of comments submitted to the FCC as significant, and could further redress Chairman Pai’s proposed rule. Whatever the outcome, and intervention from Congress would undoubtedly delay the rollback of net neutrality rules for several months, which could undermine Chairman Pai’s current agenda.