On 18 May 2017, the FCC will hold an open meeting during which it will consider a range of subjects. The biggest and most contentious relates to ‘restoring internet freedom’ – a vote (which is widely expected to be passed), on rolling back the net neutrality rules. Following the vote, the challenge for the FCC will be to ensure that the repeal will not result in a regulatory vacuum. On issues such as traffic management and blocking it’s expected the FCC will adopt the same approach it has adopted on zero rating, which is currently assessed on a case-by-case basis.
The Commission is considering a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that proposes to restore the internet to a light-touch regulatory framework by classifying broadband internet access service as an information service and by seeking comment on the existing rules governing Internet service providers' practices. The issue of classification has always been at the heart of the US net neutrality debate. The problem the FCC faced in the past dated back to 2005 when broadband was classed as an information service rather than a telecoms service which limited the ability of the agency to regulate it.
The notice of proposed rule making was released on 27 April 2017. In it, Chairman Ajit Pai proposes to:
- Reclassify internet providers as Title I information services
- Prevent the FCC from adapting any net neutrality rules to practices that internet providers haven’t thought up yet
- Open to questions what to do with several key net neutrality rules — such as the restrictions on blocking or throttling traffic
After the vote, months of intense debate are likely to follow as the item is opened up for public comment. The commission will then revise the proposed rules based on the feedback received before taking a final vote to enact them.