FCC Asked to Delay Net Neutrality Vote Pending Court Decision

Ajit Pai FCC
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WASHINGTON — Public interest and consumer groups called for FCC Chairman Ajit Pai to delay his planned vote on Dec. 14 to repeal many of the agency’s existing net neutrality rules pending a court decision.

Pai’s proposal would eliminate rules that bar internet service providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or selling “fast lanes” that would give some sites and content an advantage in reaching consumers. Instead, Pai says ISPs would be bound by a revised set of rules requiring them to disclose how they handle web traffic. The Federal Trade Commission would be tasked with handling a large share of consumer complaints.

But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is considering a case that could limit the scope of the FTC’s authority over internet service providers like AT&T Mobility, particularly on how they handle web traffic. The court re-heard the case on Sept. 19, and a decision is expected soon.

In their letter to Pai, the groups argued that should the FCC repeal many of the FCC’s existing rules and the court rule against the FCC, there would be a “‘regulatory gap’ that would leave consumers utterly unprotected.”

“In short, the FCC has decided to put all remaining consumer protection eggs in one basket, but cannot be troubled to wait until the Ninth Circuit affirms that this approach is actually consistent with the FTC’s own jurisdictional statute,” they wrote.

An FCC spokesperson said, “This is just evidence that supporters of heavy-handed Internet regulations are becoming more desperate by the day as their effort to defeat Chairman Pai’s plan to restore Internet freedom has stalled.  The vote will proceed as scheduled on December 14.”

The letter was signed by representatives from Public Knowledge, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the National Hispanic Media Coalition, among others.

Harold Feld, senior vice president of Public Knowledge, said there is no urgency for the FCC to vote at its next meeting. “You don’t want to pull the trigger on this until you wait to see what the court actually says,” he said.

Pai argues that the current rules have stifled investment and innovation. He is also calling for the FCC to roll back its 2015 designation of ISPs as common carriers, akin to the classification that is given to a utility. He said the FCC is returning to the type of light regulation that governed the internet before 2015.

But in their letter, the groups say Pai’s proposal would go much further, and weaken even those protections put in place by Kevin Martin, the FCC chairman under President George W. Bush, in 2005. Those were a set of net neutrality principles, but a court eventually ruled that the agency had to establish a sounder legal footing to enforce them.