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Title II Rollback Rolls On

WASHINGTON — Mignon Clyburn, the lone Democrat on the Federal Communications Commission, spent more than 20 minutes reading the riot act to the agency’s Republican majority as she dissented from the rollback and revision of its Title II-based Open Internet Order.

“I’ll mark you down as a ‘no’ on this one,” FCC chairman Ajit Pai joked.

In a public meeting notable for its occasional humor and lack of protesters — at least inside the meeting room — Pai and fellow commissioner Michael O’Rielly last Thursday (May 18) began the serious business of rolling back the classification of internet-service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, and reconsidering whether any of the FCC Open Internet Order’s brightline rules are needed to protect the public interest.

ISPs have been seeking to reverse Title II since the rules were adopted in 2015, and last week pledged not to block or throttle web traffic — paid prioritization is a grayer area, but ISPs have said they don’t do that either — regardless of what the FCC concludes in the months-long (at least three and probably more) process of gathering input on the proposal.

In short, the proposal is: 1) end Title II regulation of the internet; 2) reinstate that mobile broadband as a private mobile service; 3) eliminate the “general conduct standard” for reviewing possible violations of open internet principles not covered under “bright-line” rules; and 4) seek comment on whether to keep, modify or eliminate those rules against blocking, throttling or paid prioritization. Pai promised that any resulting order would be made public well before a vote.

He also conceded any such order will likely also wind up back in court.

While industry players praised the move, many also said Congress needs to step in to clarify the FCC’s broadband regulatory authority (and help the agency get off the legal merry-go-round).

Also calling for legislation was the Republican chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, John Thune of South Dakota, who took to the Senate floor just before the FCC vote to say that effort should start ASAP. But the general two-cats-in-a-sack relationship between Republicans and Democrats over issues like health care and immigration carries over to net neutrality.

Democrats are wary of promises of bipartisan legislation, with Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), the House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member, on the record as saying that well has been poisoned, hardly the beginning of a kumbaya moment.

But it is likely the beginning of a summer of protests.

Open Internet Order proponent Demand Progress sent an email to supporters hours after the vote asking for a $5 donation to help save net neutrality, by which it means it plans to “flood” congressional offices with phone calls and drive what it said are “1 million” grassroots actions against what they call the “Trump-Pai plan.”