With the reversal of the Obama-era net neutrality policy set to take effect June 1, Democrats and some Republicans are scrambling to block the move legislatively, but an FCC commissioner says none of the nightmare scenarios are going to play out.
Many people completely miss what’s really changing, and the biggest changes likely will be better, faster and cheaper broadband, said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr.
On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate voted 52-47 through the Congressional Review Act to reverse the FCC’s December action on net neutrality. Supporters of the resolution, including three Republicans, fear that ending net neutrality will result in slower or less reliable internet service and more predatory behavior by internet service providers, or ISP’s, towards consumers, by rolling back consumer protections.
The Senate action is unlikely to be repeated in the House, making it largely symbolic. But Carr says there’s nothing to fret about since the internet will simply revert to the pre-2015 policy, which was not a time of anarchy.
“We aren’t opening up the world to some Mad Max version of the internet, where ISP’s now have free reign to dictate their online experience. What we’re doing is going back to the same legal framework that was in place in 2015 and for the 20 years before that where consumers are fully protected and wee saw massive investment in our broadband infrastructure,” said Carr.
Come June 1, he says no one will be able to tell anything has changed when they log onto the web.
“In terms of your day-to-day online experience, what you see the day these rules are removed is going to be identical to what you see the day before they’re removed,” said Carr.
But there will likely be a major impact that consumers will enjoy down the road.
“What we’ve seen principally (under net neutrality) is a pretty sharp decline in investment in the broadband space,” he said. “The one difference we’re hoping they’re going to see that some of the decline in investment, hopefully we will see a reversal in that.”
So what’s behind the protests?
“I think a lot of what we’re seeing, by advocacy groups or otherwise, is intentional misrepresentations about what this issue is about purely – and I think this has been stated publicly by others – for partisan electoral politics,” said Carr.
Carr’s greatest frustration is that many of the vociferous opponents to the new FCC policy don’t seem to realize what is changing and what is not. He says the biggest change is how the internet is classified in federal law.
“The debate is really about this Title II framework, not really about the rules themselves, and the negative impact we’ve seen in terms of investment is because of the broad Title II framework,” said Carr.
When the Obama-era FCC instituted net neutrality in 2015, it allowed the federal government to regulate the internet based on the Communications Act of 1934. It’s that additional regulation that Carr and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai contend is creating disincentives for internet service providers to invest in upgrading and improving their products.
But what about the consumer protection policies? Carr says that is easy to remedy.
“If you get down to the nitty gritty, it’s about the rules: no blocking, no throttling, no broken promises in terms of what you’re getting. There’s a tremendous amount of common ground. I’d be perfectly fine if Congress were to step in and adopt those types of specific rules,” said Carr.
He says efforts are underway to provide consumer protections through legislation rather than regulation, but only one party seems to have much interest.
“There are Republicans in Congress who have already introduced a standalone net neutrality bill and they’re not getting any traction in terms of a bipartisan group that will stand behind these bills.
“Unfortunately, there’s been so much of this focus on trying to go back to this Title II framework when I think it’s a pretty short putt … to try to enshrine the actual rules that consumers care about into law,” said Carr.
Carr firmly believes unleashing the incentives for ISP’s to invest in emerging technology will mean a much better experience for internet users much sooner than they would have gotten it under Title II regulation.
“We’re at an interesting time from a technology perspective. We’ve got this new generation of low-earth orbit satellites – these thousand satellite constellations that people are investing in now and potentially going to launch in a couple of years. That could change the game for satellite broadband.
“We’ve got these new fixed wireless broadband applications which could give you – over the air – gigabit speeds. We could see greater competition with cable. And we’ve got 5G, this next generation of wireless broadband that going to, again, by gigabit-style speeds.
“In the not-too-distant future, these technologies and the regulatory work we’re doing at the commission right now to cut red tape and enable them. It’s going to to serve consumers and so I’m really optimistic about where we’re going in this space,” said Carr.