Federal Trade Commission Staffers Back FCC on Net Neutrality Rollback

WASHINGTON (CN) – Three Federal Trade Commission bureau chiefs filed an official comment with the Federal Communications Commission Monday expressing their support for FCC chair Ajit Pai’s plan to scrap net neutrality regulations.

In their filing, the agency directors said that they favor Pai’s proposal to give regulatory authority over broadband providers back to the FTC.

Under the Open Internet Order approved in 2015, the FCC currently has the jurisdiction to regulate broadband providers instead of the FTC.

In their joint comment, the FTC’s Thomas Pahl, Markus Meier, and Ginger Jin, argued that, prior to the Open Internet Order, their agency “consistently protected broadband consumers from unfair and deceptive practices, including in the privacy and data security area.”

In May, Ajit Pai, Republican chairman of the Federal Communications Committee secured a 2-1 victory to eliminate open internet rules implemented under former President Barack Obama.

Pai, a former Verizon attorney, has previously said that he supports the idea of a free and open internet, but doesn’t believe that the current classification of the internet as a common carrier, or public utility, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act is accurate.

Instead, the chairman says that classification should be rolled back and the internet should be restored to its Clinton-era categorization as an information service.

In addition to the reclassification of the internet as an information service, the FCC also proposed to return the classification of mobile broadband to its private mobile service status.

This, according to Pai, would restore the competitive market for smaller internet service providers who otherwise can’t compete with bigger broadband providers like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.

The FTC’s acting chair, Maureen Ohlhausen,  a Republican, also supports Pai’s proposal.

“While integration could prompt blocking, degrading, and higher prices, it could also offer pro-competitive and pro-consumer efficiencies … [and the facilitating of] infrastructure investment and spurring the entry of new competitors,” she said. “Similarly, after evaluating a wide variety of possible data prioritization techniques, the report determines that such techniques promise significant benefits to consumers and competition but also have some risks depending on the specific technique and use.”

Those risks were identified by FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, during the May vote to repeal. The sole dissenter, Clyburn said that repeal would prop open the door to ISPs who want to come in, charge consumers more – simply because they can – and interfere with internet access and speed in order to turn a higher profit.

Big internet service providers, like Comcast, jumped in with the FTC and filed their own support of the repeal, saying that it was “firmly” committed to an “open internet that gives consumers the freedom to be in charge of their online experience” and pledged to “never block, throttle or otherwise impair consumers’ online activity.”

AT&T and Verizon have agreed, with AT&T calling fears of fast and slow lanes “baseless.”

Open internet advocates don’t see it that way. Critics of the repeal regularly emphasize their concern that the FTC simply doesn’t have bandwidth to protect the internet in the way the FCC does. Further, the open internet advocates say, letting internet providers determine how they will adhere to net neutrality rules, rather than a clear, federally mandated set of rules, is inherently worrisome.

But the FTC said its own track record of protecting consumers should alleviate those concerns.

“To date, the FTC has brought over 500 cases protecting the privacy and security of consumer information.  These cases address a wide range of practices, including spam, unwanted telemarketing, behavioral advertising, pretexting, and spyware,” the letter of support stated.

Since the FCC opened the commission to public comments in the May, it has received roughly eight million comments and responses. The deadline for the filing of comments on the proposal has now passed;  however, the agency is accepting replies to those comments through Aug. 16.

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