FCC’s Rushed, Technically Flawed Decision Will Harm the Economy

By Barbara van Schewick

Posted on December 19, 2017


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Note: this post was originally published Thursday, December 14, 2017.

 

Today (December 14, 2017) the FCC Commissioners voted 3-2 to eliminate longstanding net neutrality protections, reclassify internet service providers as ‘information services’ under Title I of the Communications Act, and ban states from enacting their own net neutrality protections.

 

Here is my statement:

 

"Today’s FCC vote eliminates all net neutrality protections without a replacement.

 

The order leaves both the FCC and the states powerless to protect consumers and businesses against net neutrality violations by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon that connect us to the Internet.

 

The order is a radical departure from decades of careful work by FCC chairs of both political parties, who recognized and acted against the danger ISPs posed to the free markets that rose out of and depend on the Internet.

 

Once the order takes effect, ISPs will be free to disrupt how the Internet has worked for 30 years. ISPs will be free to block, speed up or slow down websites, applications, and services; charge online companies for access to an ISP’s customers and block those that don’t pay; and to enter into deals with online companies to put them in a fast lane to the ISP’s customers.

 

The only remaining constraint: ISPs have to tell their customers that they are engaging in these practices. This is not sufficient. ISPs have already started to rescind or water down prior commitments to internet openness. No ISP has said that it won’t charge websites for access to the ISPs’ customers or for a fast lane to these customers.

 

51 percent of Americans have only one ISP to choose from. If their ISP blocks or slows down an application they want to use, where are they going to go?

 

The order is built on shaky factual foundations. The internet pioneers who literally built the internet say the order doesn’t understand how the internet works. 200 networking engineers pointed out glaring errors in July. Citing arguments by internet service providers, the FCC says eliminating net neutrality is going to be great for startups. Startups and venture capitalists disagree.

 

Americans overwhelmingly oppose this order. 83 percent of Americans, including 3 out of 4 Republicans, wanted the protections to remain in place. Last week, there were more than 700 protests around the country. Since the proposal was published, there’s been more than 800,000 calls to Congress through Battle for the Net alone, more than 100,000 yesterday. In recent days, a growing number of Republican members of Congress joined their Democratic colleagues in criticizing proposal, with Representative Coffman and Senator Collins calling on the FCC to cancel the vote.

 

Despite this opposition, the FCC rushed the order through, failing to hold a single public hearing. The one FCC public forum available, its online comments system, was overrun with fake comments attributed to real people without their consent. The FCC refuses to cooperate with the NY Attorney General’s investigation into more than 2 million identity-stealing comments, and has been completely uninterested in investigating how this public forum was poisoned and by whom.

 

Today’s vote is a stain on the FCC. For decades, the FCC prided itself on being careful, deliberate and transparent in its mission to keep the internet open for free speech, commerce and innovation, while maintaining incentives for broadband providers to invest. This FCC has failed to live up to that standard.

 

As Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) wrote this morning: “This is a matter of enormous importance with significant implications for our entire economy, and therefore merits the most thorough, deliberate, and thoughtful process that can be provided. The process thus far in this important matter has not met that standard.”

 

While I’m confident the courts will find ample grounds to strike down today’s order, Chairman Pai’s rushed and technically flawed plan causes immediate damage, not just to the U.S. economy, but to the FCC’s reputation and to Americans’ already flagging faith in our nation’s democratic processes."

 

 

The preceding is republished on TAP with permission by its author, Barbara van Schewick, Director of the Center for Internet and Society (CIS) and Professor of Law and Helen L. Crocker Faculty Scholar at Stanford Law School. “FCC’s Rushed, Technically Flawed Decision Will Harm the Economy” was originally published December 14, 2017 on Professor van Schewick’s CIS blog.

 


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