The December open meeting of the Federal Communications Commission took place with demonstrators outside, a security threat inside and little substantive debate about the issue of network neutrality before a long-expected party-line vote.
The demonstrators were there to protest the FCC's imminent vote to reclassify broadband communications so that it’s under Title I of the Communications Act. The vote was intended to reverse a similar action in 2015 in which the previous Commission had reclassified broadband under Title II at the direction of the White House. The earlier Title I classification meant the internet was considered an information service.
During today’s meeting, the commissioners voiced their impassioned positions on net neutrality and on broadband as the means to access the internet. Once the discussion was brought up on the agenda, Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, aligned with the Democratic Party, accused the other commissioners of helping the FCC “pull its own teeth” and the majority Republican commissioners of ignoring the will of the people. Clyburn was one of the FCC commissioners who voted in favor of the reclassification of broadband under Title II.
Following her comments, Commissioner Michael O’Rielly decried the hype surrounding the vote, saying that he refused to vote about the hypothetical, or to engage in “Guilt by imagination.” He said that ultimately the only way to ensure consistent and persistent laws governing net neutrality was for Congress to produce legislation defining it, and regulating it.
O’Rielly also took note of the many who charged that the FCC was ignoring the comments that people sent to the FCC as well as to the individual commissioners, saying that the comments that were clearly fake were ignored. He also described a flood of obscene and profane comments, as well as some that were incomprehensible. “A lot of them said that I look like a potato,” O’Rielly said.
Commissioner Brendan Carr continued the theme of decrying the hype, saying that many of the interest groups involved in the discussion are, “fanning the false flames of fear.” He said that much of what those groups were claiming about the vote simply weren’t true, or they weren’t true about the reclassification under Title I.
He said that some of the claims that internet service providers would have new powers to control or filter the internet weren’t true because those powers already exist. He said that ISPs can block sites under Title II if they wish, as long as the disclose it.
He added that this would not change under Title I, and is part of the transparency requirement that is being added with the new change. Carr said that the new transparency requirement actually goes beyond what is in Title II and means that ISPs that violate the promises they make to users can be made to stop it.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai was part way through is discussion of the reclassification when the proceedings were interrupted by a security incident.