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Pai Floats FTC-Enforced Open Internet

WASHINGTON — Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai is looking to fast-track his anticipated rollback of the agency’s Title II-based Open Internet order, hitching it to the Federal Trade Commission’s enforcement authority over false and deceptive conduct.

Pai met with trade groups representing Internet service providers, including NCTA: The Internet & Television Association, to talk about the plan and encourage ISPs to abide voluntarily by network-neutrality principles.

ISPs have already pledged to hold to a set of broadband privacy principles voluntarily and have said they were generally OK with the baseline Open Internet rules of no blocking, degrading or paid prioritization, but were not OK with them being imposed under a Title II common-carrier regime that could potentially subject those providers to rate regulation.

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

Back in 2005, after holding that ISPs were information services not subject to mandatory access, the FCC, also under a Republican chairman, issued general Open Internet principles in a half-page policy statement as a signal to ISPs about competition and not restricting access. But a court found that those guidelines were unenforceable because they were not codified as rules.

But ISPs were not asked to publicly pledge to follow those guidelines, as Pai is reportedly signaling is now the case.

If ISPs do solemnly swear to uphold a set of net-neutrality principles, those companies could be held accountable by the FTC for violating them, the way that agency historically enforced broadband privacy policies before Title II reclassification stripped it of its oversight.

Look for major pushback from congressional Democrats and activist groups, who have argued that voluntary principles, in general, don’t cut it.

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.