May 18 The U.S. Federal Communications
Commission will hold an initial vote on Thursday on a Republican
plan to reverse the Obama administration's 2015 "net neutrality"
FCC chairman Ajit Pai disclosed in April the agency may
withdraw "bright line" rules barring internet companies from
blocking, throttling or giving "fast lanes" to some websites.
The debate over the future of the internet has received less
attention than it did in 2015, with many focused on other
issues such as President Donald Trump's May 9 firing of FBI
director Jim Comey and its aftermath.
"In the rubble of this week, the FCC is formally starting
the process of destroying net neutrality," Senator Brian Schatz,
a Democrat, said on Wednesday.
A number of Democratic senators plan to attend a rally on
Thursday outside the FCC meeting with opponents.
The other Republican on the FCC, which currently has three
members, supports Pai. The public will have until mid-August to
offer comments before the FCC votes on a final plan.
Pai said in April he wants the FCC to repeal the rules that
reclassified internet service and tightly regulated providers as
if they were utilities. He thinks the 2015 open internet rules
were unnecessary and harm jobs and investment.
"We were not living in some digital dystopia before the
partisan imposition of a massive plan hatched in Washington
saved all of us," Pai said in April.
Pai wants public input on whether the FCC should keep its
"bright line" rules, and said his decision would depend partly
on the comments. He has not committed to retaining any rules,
but said he favors an "open internet."
Facebook Inc, Alphabet Inc and others back
net neutrality rules, saying they guarantee equal access to the
Broadband providers AT&T Inc, Verizon Communications
Inc and Comcast Corp oppose the 2015 order,
saying it would discourage investment and innovation.
Internet providers insist they will not engage in blocking
or throttling even in the absence of rules, but critics are
skeptical. "That’s like asking a kid to 'voluntarily' swear not
to stick his hands in the cookie jar. It just won’t happen,"
Senator Edward Markey, a Democrat, said on Wednesday.
Comcast, Charter Communications Inc and Altice NV's
U.S. unit signed an advertisement Wednesday saying
they are "committed to an open internet that gives you the
freedom to be in charge of your online experience.... We do not
block, throttle or otherwise impair your online activity."
(Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool)