Those of you who were reading this column back in 2014 will remember the lobbying battle between diametrically opposed groups that both said they were fighting to preserve net neutrality. The battle was really over about how net neutrality would be implemented and preserved with both sides claiming that the other side would bring about the ruin of the internet.
In the end both sides lost because the FCC voted to regulate the Internet under a set of ancient regulations designed for the days of circuit switched networks using copper wire and mechanical switches. This fit the real world of the internet about as well as high-heeled boots on a fish.
As a result all stakeholders in the decision, consumers, ISPs, broadband service providers and even U.S. lawmakers got a bad deal. This is why the investment into the internet fell and why that portion of the economy attributable to communications, the internet and ecommerce failed to grow as fast as it should have. Pai said there have been losses of 5.6 percent in capital investment totaling $3.6 Billion in the two years since Title II regulation of the internet went into effect.
Predictably, interest groups from all sides are chiming in on Pai’s announcement. The group Fight for the Future has announced a fundraising campaign to save net neutrality. Another group, Free Press (which actually has nothing to do with news media) is predicting the end of net neutrality because ISPs are companies and those companies are a threat to freedom. Craig Aaron, president and CEO of Free Press, has managed to conflate police brutality and videos of children being killed to the FCC action.
Meanwhile, other interest groups fighting for net neutrality are saluting Pai’s speech and are urging the FCC to immediately decree the end of the Title II regulations. They are, of course, opposed to views of other net neutrality groups.
For his part, Pai has declined to initiate private deliberations on a new internet regulatory policy that will result in another secret party line vote that released to the news media with scant public comment as an accomplished fact. He says he will do the whole process in public and this is apparently appalling to people who believe that Pai is bent on permanently killing off the last vestige of net neutrality.
However, as a working journalist, I fail to see what’s wrong with a totally open decision-making process. Every side will have a chance to make its case before the FCC and they will see if the Commission is playing fast and loose with the rules, like Tom Wheeler did when he violated large portions of the Administrative Procedures Act in forcing the change to Title II.
Watching the FCC do its job of making new communications policy in public will be downright refreshing at the very least. It might even be democratic.