Paging John Oliver.
Net neutrality is once again under fire. This time, the threat comes from the government institution that’s supposed to uphold the rules — the Federal Communications Commission.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced on Wednesday that he’s looking to completely gut the strong net neutrality regulations put in place under the Barack Obama administration.
"Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015," Paid said, speaking at the Newseum in Washington D.C.
Pai portrayed the issue as a battle between groups that want to see the government take over the internet and free-market advocates who want to make sure the internet remains free of oversight that could hamper innovation and investment in internet infrastructure.
"Going forward we cannot stick with regulations from the Great Depression that were meant to micromanage Ma Bell," Paid said, referencing the broadband rules that also apply to phone companies.
Pai, a Donald Trump appointee, has been an outspoken critic of the net neutrality rules put in place roughly three years ago. Those rules were cheered by open internet advocates — and protested vigorously by major internet providers and telecom companies.
Net neutrality has been the source of an ongoing debate for years. The phrase "net neutrality" denotes that data flowing over the internet should be treated equally regardless of its source or destination. Net neutrality means the internet is an level playing field wether someone is searching on Google, watching a movie on Netflix, or visiting your blog.
Trump’s FCC is about to announce their plan to take away your access to the internet and give it to big corporations. #netneutrality
— Senator Brian Schatz (@SenBrianSchatz) April 26, 2017
Internet advocates tend to argue in support of net neutrality with near-religious fervor. Without net neutrality, they warn, the internet as we know it could cease to exist, instead carved up by major companies. This would mean the internet is no longer the open network that has served as the platform for the explosion in innovation seen in the last few decades.
It’s also a topic that can be tough to get the general public to care about. Last time the FCC was considering net neutrality rules, John Oliver helped kick off a public firestorm over the issue.
So, John, how about round 2?
The bad news is that there’s little that can stop Pai from pushing through his repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules. The good news, is that the process itself will take many months — and could then be held up and even struck down in court.
The FCC’s rules center around considering broadband internet access akin to water or power — a public utility. Those kinds of operations are regulated more aggressively than normal companies due to their importance, as well as the lack of competition. Much like having one power company for your home, you likely only have one internet provider.
Pai is looking to undo the previous change that made broadband internet a utility — and remove the FCC’s role entirely. Pai is reportedly planning to have internet providers make "voluntary commitments" — basically promises — that would be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission.
This would be among the most radical moves made by the FCC in regard to net neutrality even under Republican commissioners.