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FCC's Pai Eyeing Swift Exit for Title II

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is looking to fast-track his anticipated rollback of the FCC's Title II-based Open Internet order.

Pai met this week with ISP groups, including NCTA: The Internet & Television Association, to talk about the plan and encourage them to voluntarily abide by net neutrality principles.

ISPs have already pledged to voluntarily hold to a set of broadband privacy principles—which they promoted as a way to avoid the FCC's broadband privacy framework that congressional Republicans just repealed—and has said they were generally OK with the baseline Open Internet rules of no blocking, degrading or paid prioritization, just not with them being imposed under a Title II common carrier regime that could potentially subject them to rate regulation.

A source familiar with the meeting said the idea would likely be for ISPs to add the net neutrality commitments to customer terms of service agreements, which then allows the Federal Trade Commission to enforce violations under its authority to go after unfair and deceptive practices.

The proposal could be outlined as early as the end of this month.

Pai's office was not available for comment at presstime, but he has made clear he wants to reverse Title II. Doing it speedily would also resolve the issue of broadband privacy oversight, returning it to the FTC and obviating the need to come up with interim Title II-based rules at the FCC. 

Title II fans, including Congressional Democrats, have pledged to fight to preserve Title II, as they did to get the FCC to reclassify under Democratic chairman Tom Wheeler.

NCTA declined comment, as did CTIA, which represents wireless ISPs.

“If these reports are true," said Chris Lewis, VP at Public Knowledge, "Chairman Pai is preparing to give dominant cable and telecommunications companies what their D.C. lobbyists have dreamed of for years: voluntary net neutrality ‘rules’ where consumer protection is no more than ‘trust your cable or internet provider.’

Pai's move would be the latest in a long and winding road for net neutrality guidelines/rules at the FCC, starting with a policy statement in 2005, under a Republican chairman, on openness principles; followed by a court challenge and ruling that they were unenforceable because they were not codified as rules; after which a Democratic FCC codified them, after which they were challenged again and a court overturned them as insufficiently justified, after which the FCC issued new rules based on Title II justification, after which the court upheld them, after which Pai took over earlier this year and signaled Title II would likely be reversed.

“The only way to protect a free and open internet is with strong net neutrality rules of the road – not voluntary guidelines – that ensure businesses, innovators and families can use the world’s greatest platform for commerce and communications," said Sen Ed Markey (D-Mass.). "Chairman Pai’s proposal would put the future of an open and free internet in the hands of big corporations and the powerful few at the expense of consumers."

“We have recognized for decades that the FCC has rightful authority over telecommunications services, and it has rightfully acted to ensure the principles of non-discrimination apply to the internet. In 2015, the FCC put strong net neutrality rules in place and the D.C. Circuit Court upheld those rules. Despite what Republicans and Chairman Pai claim, there is no net neutrality problem that needs fixing, either at the Commission or in Congress. Millions of Americans called on the FCC to adopt these strong protections, and opponents of net neutrality should expect an historic political firestorm should anyone at the FCC, in Congress or in the broadband industry attempt to weaken or eliminate the Open Internet Order.”