FCC Names Ombudsperson to Answer Open Internet Questions

Now that new Internet rules have gone into effect, the FCC has hired an ombudsperson to respond to concerns and other issues from consumers.

FCC ombudsperson

With its new Open Internet rules in effect since June 12, the FCC has hired an ombudsperson to respond to questions and concerns from consumers about the new policies.

Parul P. Desai, who formerly served as policy counsel for media, telecommunications and technology policy at Consumers Union and as vice president at the former Media Access Project (MAP), has been appointed as the agency's first Open Internet ombudsperson, according to a June 15 announcement by the Federal Communications Commission.

In her new post, Desai will be the public's primary point of contact within the agency for formal and informal questions and complaints related to the latest Internet rules. Her post was created as part of the new rules that went into effect. Desai's official job title is assistant bureau chief and director of consumer engagement in the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau (CGB).

Andrew J. Schwartzman, a law professor at Georgetown Law School who worked with her previously at MAP, a non-profit public interest telecommunications law firm that represented the public in promoting First Amendment rights, told eWEEK that Desai "is an inspired selection" for the new FCC ombudsperson post.

"She is an extremely talented person," said Schwartzman. "She is by nature a conciliator and a negotiator. She's very well-suited for this kind of position, and she has great respect within the Federal Communications Bar Association. She knows the relevant stakeholders on all sides."

Desai is a graduate of Rutgers University and New York Law School. She can be reached at ombudsperson@fcc.gov or at 202-418-1155. Consumers can also file complaints online through consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.

The FCC adopted the new Open Internet rules on Feb. 26, and they went into effect on June 12, despite controversies and several legal appeals that continue.

The most controversial change that was adopted in the so-called net neutrality rules by the FCC is that the agency will now regulate the Internet as a public utility under Title II. Many critics passionately opposed the move, arguing that the Internet does not need that kind of oversight and that it would ultimately stifle innovation and increase costs and hassle for consumers.

The FCC countered that the new regulations would "set sustainable rules of the roads that will protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation's broadband networks," according to an earlier eWEEK report. The courts struck down two prior FCC attempts to set rules for Internet use into the future, but the latest attempt resolves the legal issues that eventually undermined those attempts, the agency said. Critics vehemently disagree with that analysis.

In March and April, the FCC was hit with six legal petitions opposing the Title II reclassification of the Internet, according to earlier eWEEK reports. Those legal actions were filed separately by AT&T, the CTIA mobile trade association, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), the American Cable Association, USTelecom (a Washington-based telecommunications trade group) and Alamo Broadband. The opponents sought court actions that would have prevented the laws from going into effect.

Those petitions failed to block the new rules, but opponents are continuing their fight against the measures.

The new FCC rules also include key provisions that broadband providers cannot block access to legal content, applications and services, nor can they "throttle," or slow up, access to lawful Internet traffic, according to the FCC. Also prohibited under the new rules is paid prioritization in which broadband providers could favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for extra payments, essentially prohibiting so-called fast lanes to the highest bidders.