By Kris B. Mamula
There are better ways to ensure open broadband access to the internet’s sites and services than the rule change chosen by the Federal Communications Commission two years ago, the commission’s new chairman said Tuesday.
Ajit Pai, who was scheduled to address Carnegie Mellon University faculty and graduate students in Oakland on Wednesday, said no final decisions have been made, but he is working with Congress on legislation that would codify the principle of equal access to the internet without reclassifying broadband service as a common carrier, which the commission did in 2015.
The reclassification, under terms of a 1934 law, increases the regulatory burden for internet service providers. At issue is whether there is a better way to assure equal access to all internet sites and services, without worry about service providers slowing or otherwise restricting access for competitive reasons.
The 44-year-old Mr. Pai voted against reclassifying the internet as a common carrier, which he said subjected online service providers to a raft of regulations that he considers intrusive and unnecessary.
“The core principle favors a free and open internet and what legal and regulatory framework is needed to secure that value,” Mr. Pai said. Reclassifying internet service providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, which the commission chose, was a heavy handed approach to solving a problem that didn’t exist.
In a dissenting opinion written in 2015, Mr. Pai called the FCC’s rule change an “unlawful power grab,” which would result in higher broadband prices, slower speeds and less innovation.
Mr. Pai was scheduled to address the Pittsburgh Technology Council and CMU faculty and graduate students Wednesday at CMU’s Software Engineering Institute. The closed meeting will be among Mr. Pai’s first policy addresses since being named chair of the independent commission in January by President Trump.
David Farber, an adjunct professor of computer science at CMU, supports Mr. Pai’s approach, saying reclassifying broadband services was like “swatting a fly with a Sherman Tank.”
“Net neutrality is a complicated mess,” said Mr. Farber, who was chief technologist at the FCC in 1999. The rule change was an “overreaction to a nonproblem.”
The market for internet service providers operated without problems for years before adoption of the new rule in 2015, Mr. Pai said. If the problem arises in the future, the commission can take a less heavy handed, more targeted approach.
Mr. Pai’s critics include Paul Goodman, senior legal counsel at the Greenlining Institute in Oakland, Calif., a social justice and advocacy agency. Mr. Goodman fears that protections of open access to internet services and sites will erode under Mr. Pai’s leadership.
“I should be able to access any site with any device,” Mr. Goodman said. “Companies should not be allowed to slow down certain websites.”
“The problem is that a lot of these companies also have subsidiaries that make content,” he said, creating the possibility that providers will interfere with consumer site access for competitive reasons.