Pai Expected to Move Gradually on Net Neutrality Revamp

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By Kyle Daly

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is expected to kick off a rewrite of net neutrality rules by undoing the agency’s underlying classification of broadband internet service.

The rules prevent internet service providers such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or throttling data traffic flowing over their networks in most circumstances. Pai has argued for lighter-touch net neutrality regulation. Pai is expected to outline his broadband reclassification proposal in a April 26 speech on internet regulation in Washington, D.C.

Pai opposed the FCC’s decision during the Obama administration to classify broadband as a common carrier service under communications law. Several telecom attorneys and industry sources told Bloomberg BNA they expect Pai to limit himself for now to reversing the common-carrier classification.

Sources expect Pai won’t immediately try to dictate how the FCC will rewrite the net neutrality rules. Instead, he’s expected to seek input about the best approach. That will give broadband providers and tech companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google an opening to join what promises to be a pitched policy battle around the rules.

Pai is expected to release the draft text of his initial proposal Apr. 27 and schedule it for a vote at the FCC’s May 18 meeting.

Any new net neutrality rules would likely still forbid broadband providers from throttling or blocking lawful online content. But loosening the rules currently on the books could allow those companies to charge online content companies such as Google and Netflix Inc. to speed content to consumers. Critics say that would harm smaller competitors that can’t afford to pay for priority treatment and ultimately consumers.

Possible Shift

Pai’s approach may be less abrupt than a plan he described to broadband trade groups earlier this month. He told industry representatives that he was considering ending common-carrier classification and handing enforcement of most net neutrality rules to the Federal Trade Commission, according to people with knowledge of the talks. Compared to the FCC, however, the FTC has limited rulemaking authority and could likely only punish net neutrality violations after the fact.

The GOP chairman could still nudge his net neutrality replacement regime in that direction as the plan develops.

To contact the reporter on this story: Kyle Daly in Washington at kdaly@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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