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Title II-Rollback Comments, Take Two

The flood tide of reclassification rollback comments continued late Wednesday as fans and foes got their Title II-cents in after FCC Chairman Ajit Pai outlined his plans for reversing his Democratic predecessor's regulatory underpinning for Open Internet regs.

"By questioning the unprecedented and ill-supported expansion of FCC authority that undergirds the Order, Chairman Pai has taken a crucial step toward re-imposing economic rigor and the rule of law at the FCC," said the International Center for Law & Economics in a statement.

"For many of us the fundamental problem with the Open Internet Order is quite simple: The Communications Act, as it currently stands, does not actually authorize the FCC to adopt net neutrality rules....Of course, there’s a simple solution to that problem: Congress can amend the Act or pass a new law if it decides it wants the FCC to have the authority to implement net neutrality rules."

A top Democrat could not disagree more.

“Net neutrality is the essential foundation of free speech and opportunity online," said Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), ranking member of the House Energy & Commerce Committee. "In today’s political and economic environment, the free and open internet is more important than ever.  It’s how people organize across the country and across political lines. 

It’s how people find new jobs and new opportunities, and how small businesses compete.  But under Chairman Pai’s plan, nothing stops political powers from pushing broadband companies to choke off dissenting views or big companies from gaining unfair advantages over small businesses online."

“His plan is clear," said Pallone of Pai's plan. "sabotage net neutrality by kicking the legal legs out from under it, but we cannot let this happen.  We will fight with the American people to keep these important protections in place in order to protect a free and open internet.”   

App developers were ready for Congress to step in, but not ready to hammer Pai for trying to back the FCC away from 'net regs.

“The Developers Alliance supports a stable environment that promotes innovation and business growth. Developers need an Internet – wired and wireless – that is open, competitive, stable, fast, and fair to all who use it," said Developers Alliance President Jake Ward. "A set of rules, established by Congress, will finally put the issue of Net Neutrality to rest, and support future investment and innovation.

 “The torturing of the 1934 Communications Act to force it to accommodate the Internet has been painful to watch. Rather than viewing the FCC as abandoning the field, we should encourage them to make way for congressional action to once and for all set the rules for digital economy and legacy telecom cooperation. Both government bodies and both political parties should consider the stabilizing value of legislation. After more than a decade, developers would relish the certainty that narrowly and carefully crafted bipartisan legislation could bring to this issue. More years of litigation will simply create uncertainty that will undermine developers’ efforts to innovate and invest in our technology future."

The Writers Guild of America, West said it "strongly objects to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s decision to undermine the FCC’s Open Internet Rules and surrender control of the Internet to a handful of corporations.

The current rules, which reclassified broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, are supported by millions of Americans and have been upheld in court. They have protected the Internet from anticompetitive actions by Internet service providers. These rules have allowed more independent and diverse programming to flourish, providing new creative and economic opportunities for writers and choices for consumers. As content creators and free speech advocates, we stand by the rules because they provide the best protection for the free and open Internet.”

"The internet belongs to all of us; I don’t know why Chairman Pai wants to mess up an internet that works," said Nathan White, Senior Legislative Manager at Access Now. "[B]ut people in the United States and around the world aren’t going to sit back and let Chairman Pai or any telecommunications company tell us what we can say, do, and see on the internet. "Start-ups should have the same ability to succeed on the internet as big corporations. We need the strong Net Neutrality rules that millions of people asked for, and we’re ready to fight for them.”

VoIP pioneer Daniel Berninger, who challenged the FCC's reclassification in court along side ISPS, was pleased.

"The conviction of the new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to follow statute and precedent provides welcome relief from his predecessor," he said. "It seems long overdue to recognize the flaws in the basic premises motivating advocates to impose vacuum tube era regulation on the Internet.  The theoretical bit molesting problem Tim Wu imagines in the 2003 paper sparking the debate simply never materialized. If advocates fail to join Chairman Pai offer to resolve hostilities amicably via agency process, a final confrontation looms before the Supreme Court of the United States."

"Technological innovation has flourished because of the open nature of the internet. This has led to new business models and new platforms for expression," said the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Chairman Pai's proposal to undo the strong open internet protections currently in place would clearly advantage large internet service providers at the expense of the internet users who deserve unfettered, equitable access to the full range of internet services," said Ferras Vinh, CDT Policy Counsel."

"The balanced approach Commissioner Pai unveiled will encourage new investments in broadband networks and speed the development of innovative services, including Internet of Things technologies, telemedicine, distance learning, emergency services, and mobile 5G," said Cisco VP of government affairs Jeff Campbell.

"The Internet ecosystem continues to evolve at an unprecedented pace, creating significant opportunities for Americans. 

It is our hope that this new vision will be the first step in creating sustainable light touch regulation for the Internet once and for all.”

“NTCA has consistently urged clear rules of the road to ensure the seamless flow of data between users and across networks of all kinds,” said NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “As representatives of small,

rural businesses that have lived through call completion failures in recent years, we know all too well what can happen when rules aren’t clear or enforced. Although we held out some hope that the prior FCC might use Title II in a disciplined, light-touch manner merely to promote core statutory principles, this framework was unfortunately used to impose one-sided, heavy-handed regulations on broadband networks primarily for the benefit of other actors in the Internet ecosystem. We hope that the coming debate over how to reset the rules of the road will move us back toward a more productive and targeted focus on promoting consumer protection and universal service.”

"Moving forward with Chairman Pai's plan would be a loss for Americans everywhere," said Carmen Scurato, director of policy and legal affairs for the National Hispanic Media Coalition. "Moving forward with Chairman Pai's plan would be a loss for Americans everywhere. Dismantling net neutrality opens the door for corporations to limit free expression, organizing efforts, educational opportunities and entrepreneurship by imposing a new toll to access information online.

It would also undermine the ability of low-income Americans to get and stay online, as the Lifeline Program that supports broadband discounts would also be jettisoned in Pai's vision to make the internet work for giant Internet Service Providers, at the expense of consumers."

“FCC Chairman Pai is giving a clinic in FCC and regulatory leadership: in doing the right thing, i.e. starting the process of returning the FCC to the bipartisan, light regulatory, Internet approach that worked exceptionally well from 1996-2015; for the right reasons, i.e. the 2015 order was unnecessary, unwarranted and uncertain, and repealing it will promote economic growth, jobs, broadband deployment and competition; and in the right way, i.e. openly stating what the FCC will be doing and why," said Scott Cleland, chairman of the ISP-backed NetCompetition. "If the previous FCC had not acted for the wrong reasons, i.e. because of inappropriate White House pressure, in the wrong way, i.e. claiming to be all for openness but running a non-transparent decision-making process, they would never have done the wrong thing: i.e. hyper-regulating an economically productive and competitive industry that had done nothing to warrant any regulation, let alone the strongest possible monopoly/utility regulation.”

“We are interested in principles that deepen trust and affirm the internet as a platform for all Americans and people around the world, and that drive nearly a trillion dollars of growth into our economy each year,” said ITI President Dean Garfield. “There is bipartisan agreement that open internet principles, which evolved from former Chairman Michael Powell’s ‘internet freedoms,’ should be protected.  We believe the best way to do so would be through legislative action.  Until that can happen, we look forward to further reviewing the details of Chairman Pai’s plan.  ITI will work with the chairman and his colleagues to protect open internet principles as well as the incentive to innovate and invest by all stakeholders in the internet ecosystem."

“TIA strongly supports Chairman Pai’s decision to return to the FCC’s long-standing, bipartisan approach of light-touch internet regulations," said Telecommunications Industry Association SVP CInnamon Rogers. "Applying old rules to new networks and a dynamic marketplace threatens the ‘virtuous cycle’ of investment, competition, and innovation that led to $800 billion in broadband infrastructure spending from 2002 to 2014. The order outlined today by Chairman Pai offers a far better path for achieving an open internet, and we look forward to seeing the full details."

Pai said he would release the full text of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Thursday afternoon.

"“Any effort to weaken Open Internet protections must be rejected as it could toss the streaming and Internet economy back into chaos, taking consumers back to a time when ISPs like Comcast throttled Netflix and consumers had to buffer their way through a binge," said INCOMPAS CEO Chip Pickering. "We believe the risks of FCC action far outweigh any reward, Thankfully, Chairman Pai will conduct a public comment period, and we are willing to work with all stakeholders

to achieve and maintain objectives that protect a free and Open Internet. But INCOMPAS will fight and oppose any effort to harm Americans’ abilities to access the content of their choice and weaken the most successful economic and free expression policy in American history.”

"This week, the FCC begins a new chapter in a long debate over the future of the internet," said the Internet Innovation Alliance. "Our position is clear: We favor an open internet, including core network neutrality requirements that assure the ability of internet users to access the content of their choosing without interference from Internet Service Providers. Edge providers rely on net neutrality guarantees to reach their customers, and ISPs have fully incorporated these principles into their business operations.

"Monopoly-style regulation from the days of rotary phones is simply inappropriate in today’s competitive, innovative broadband marketplace. The Hundt, Kennard, Powell, Martin, and Genachowski Commissions were correct when they declared and/or affirmed broadband as an information service, and the FCC was wrong when it later made the decision to place it under Title II. Their bipartisan agreement in favor of light-touch regulation fueled the explosive growth of the internet ecosystem. Returning to that framework will offer many benefits to the American people by encouraging investment in broadband networks, which will also spur job and economic growth.

"Congress should enact bipartisan compromise legislation that gives legal certainty to network neutrality and re-affirms broadband is an information service. Congressional action will provide the predictable framework needed for investment and avoid an endless cycle of re-regulation and de-regulation."

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.