Friday, May 19, 2017

FCC looks to roll back net neutrality, which is designed partly to help connect underserved areas

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission took the first step in rolling back Obama-era net-neutrality rules, which were designed to prevent telecom giants from having monopolies over service and to help rural and under-served areas that lack broadband, Margaret Harding McGill reports for Politico.

In releasing the rules in February 2015, FCC aimed to make broadband internet service a public utility, resulting in an open internet, created in response to a lack of competition for high-speed internet service, leaving many areas with only one option. In some rural areas, providers refused to offer services because they viewed it as too costly to connect a small amount of people, or they offered service, but at increased costs.

Municipal utilities also sought to go outside their defined service areas to provide broadband to rural areas. Laws in many states prohibit governments from getting into the business and/or limit public utilities to their existing service areas. In 2015, the FCC allowed two municipal utilities, in Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, to do so. Telecom giants claimed the FCC was exceeding its authority with the net neutrality rules. But in June 2016, a federal appeals court for the District of Columbia, by a 2-1 decision, dismissed those arguments.

The FCC, which now has a Republican majority under President Trump, this week "voted along party lines to begin the process of rolling back the rules," McGill reports. "The telecom industry has criticized the rules as burdensome and unnecessary regulations, but supporters among startups and online tech companies say they ensure ISPs don't abuse their position as internet gatekeepers to favor some websites over others. The net-neutrality order, passed by the FCC's then-Democratic majority in 2015, represents one of the signature policy achievements of the Obama administration."

Republican FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed by Trump, said "the FCC, in applying utility-style regulation to ISPs, was too heavy-handed and threatened the longstanding tradition of government keeping its hands off the internet," McGill writes. "Net-neutrality supporters argue that the rules provide important protections for consumers who may not have many options in buying internet service and also allow online companies to thrive, increasing consumer demand for broadband services."

Meanwhile, John M. Donnelly a reporter for CQ Roll Call, and chairman of The National Press Club’s Press Freedom Team and president of the Military Reporters & Editors association, said he was manhandled at an FCC hearing on Thursday, Julie Schoo reports for club. Donnelly said when he made his way toward FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly to pose a question, two guards pinned him "against the wall with the backs of their bodies until O’Rielly had passed." Donnelly said he was then forced to leave the building under implied threat.

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