It’s been clear for months that the Trump administration wants to scuttle the net neutrality reforms enacted under President Obama. And on Thursday, Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai reportedly told the telecoms how it’s going to happen.
Speaking to trade associations that represent the telecoms industry, Pai said he plans to reverse the classification of internet providers as utilities, according to Reuters. As part of the rollback, companies would voluntarily commit to not discriminating against certain kinds of internet services, and the Federal Trade Commission would be the agency responsible for enforcing compliance.
While other elements of the Trump agenda have been slow to take shape — such as his $1 trillion infrastructure investment plan — the White House has moved quickly to roll back Obama-era regulations of internet providers. Earlier this week, President Trump signed into law legislation removing privacy protections that prevented internet companies from selling personal user information like browser histories to third-parties.
Pai’s timetable is said to be similarly speedy. He reportedly aims to reveal his plan by the end of April and to put it up for a vote among the FCC commissioners in May or June.
FCC spokesperson Mark Wigfield declined to comment on the agency’s plans for net neutrality. In recent months, Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, has called the Obama-era net neutrality reforms a “mistake,” although he said he favors a “free and open internet” at his first FCC meeting as chairman in January.
Gigi Sohn, who advised Obama’s FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, told VICE News that Pai “wants to take away people’s internet freedom in exchange for lame promises from Comcast and AT&T.”
“Remember, the FTC cannot make rules; it can only enforce [deceptive trade practices],” Sohn said. “Rules protect consumers before they are harmed, moderate bad behavior, and give consumers a clear sense of what their rights are. Because of resources, you can only do so much enforcement. The fact of the matter is you can’t go after everyone.”
Ernesto Falcon, who serves as legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an advocacy organization for digital rights and civil liberties, said the suggestion that this move would be good for consumers is “laughable.”
“Do you think most consumers trust their cable company to have their best interest in mind?” Falcon said. “I think it fits very closely with the mindset that there should be no consumer protection.”
Though Pai has thus far focused much of his energy on undoing the regulatory initiatives of the Obama administration, he has other plans in the works. He also voted to allocate funding to expand rural broadband internet access and announced the creation of a new FCC department focused on doing “cost-benefit analysis” of current and proposed regulation.
“I’ll give him credit,” Sohn said. “[Pai] is operating with all deliberate speed to dismantle everything good about telecom policy.”