Yesterday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai announced he had circulated among the members of the commission a draft version of his Restoring Internet Freedom Order. The order would roll back protections put into place two years ago to make sure Internet service providers (ISPs) treat all online destinations equally. Pai argues that these “net neutrality” provisions stifle innovation, and he has long promised to deregulate in this area.
In 2015, the FCC under then-chair Tom Wheeler asserted that broadband high-speed Internet access qualified as a Title II utility under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, as essential to modern life as phone service or electricity. That classification prohibits ISPs from engaging in blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization of specific websites, maintaining the state known as “net neutrality.” This ruling withstood a number of legal challenges, and even as the Republicans on the Commission rallied with representatives from Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon to undo it, popular support for the measure remained strong, from advocacy groups like the Electronic Freedom Foundation and Fight for the Future to Internet giants like Netflix.