When Donald Trump tapped Ajit Pai as the new head of the FCC, many advocates of a free and open Internet feared the worse. Now, Reuters reports that Pai is fast-tracking plans to repeal Obama-era net neutrality rules.
According to Reuters, Pai met this week with major telecommunications trade groups to discuss his preliminary plans to reverse these regulations. Instead, he wants major internet service providers such as AT&T and Verizon to verbally commit to not obstructing or slowing consumer access to web content.
In the past, Pai has has said he supports an open internet, but with less regulation. He argued that net neutrality results in “higher broadband prices, slower broadband speeds, less broadband deployment, less innovation, and fewer options for consumers.” However, supporters of net neutrality believe such a scenario would occur only after regulations are reversed, as internet service providers would be able to create a two-tier pay-to-play Internet, where websites are charged extra fees for faster load speeds and other preferential treatments. ISPs could also slow down its competitors’ websites, block content it disagrees with, and impose data limits on users.
Pai reportedly suggested that ISPs commit in writing to open internet principles and include such language in their terms of service, which he believes would make them binding. However, Reuters notes that it’s unclear whether regulators could legally compel ISPs to abide by such principles without existing net neutrality rules.
We should find out more details later this month when Pai formally unveils his proposal to overturn net neutrality. A vote could come as soon as May.
Meanwhile, earlier this week Trump signed a bill reversing internet privacy rules requiring internet providers to obtain their customers’ consent before sharing or selling their browsing information and other data.