Federal Communications Commissioner Brendan Carr is vigorously defending the panel’s decision to revert to the regulatory framework that applied to the Internet until 2015 and he is blasting critics for hurling racist insults at the FCC chairman and even disrupting Thursday’s meeting with a bomb scare.
Advocates of the change in so-called “net neutrality” argue a heavier government hand stifles innovation and upgrades by the major Internet service providers. They support this week’s decision to lift that load. Critics suggest the deregulation leaves consumers at the mercy of telecom giants like Comact, AT&T, and Verizon.
“This is something people are pretty fired up about and I get it. Americans cherish the free and open Internet. They don’t want to see the FCC doing anything to undermine that. The vote we took doesn’t do that. We returned back to the 2015 regulatory framework and we make sure there’s consumer protections in place,” said Carr.
Led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, the commission voted Thursday to classify the Internet under Title I of the 1934 Communications Act as opposed to Title II, which is where the Obama-era FCC classified the web in 2015.
“Title II is what applies to your traditional landline telephone service. Title I, up until 2015, is a lighter regulatory framework designed for what we call information services. That’s what the Internet was and that’s what the Internet is again after our decision,” said Carr.
Critics see things far differently. Late night talk host Jimmy Kimmel took aim at the FCC Thursday night, offering a number of ominous scenarios that he says are now possible because of Thursday’s vote.
“The FCC did something absolutely despicable today. They voted to put an end to net neutrality. This is the rule that says everyone gets equal access to the Internet: a big company or somebody selling crocheted owls from their house in the Midwest,” claimed Kimmel.
“As long as they tell us they’re doing it now, Internet service providers will now be able to slow down or block web traffic to any website or streaming service they like, which benefits the big telecom companies and does the opposite for all of us,” he added.
“There’s a lot of myths in there to bust,” said Carr, explaining Kimmel and other net neutrality advocates have it backwards.
“That’s what the law was under Title II. Title II said that a broadband provider could block websites, could throttle traffic, do paid prioritization as long as they disclosed it to their customers. What we’re doing is going back to the 2015 framework.
“The key is it’s not going to be a free-for-all. Federal antitrust law is going to apply and it’s going to regulate the type of hypothetical harms that we heard him talking about,” said Carr.
Carr says that incorrect understanding is leading to a lot of the tensions in this debate.
“I’d be very concerned if we were turning over the reins of the Internet completely to ISPs and letting them dictate your online experience. That’s simply not what we’re doing, but I understand why people that perceive that we’re doing that are pretty fired up about it,” said Carr.
“I think why people are getting so much wrong information about this is because it’s a very technical issue at the FCC at the end of the day. Is this a Title II service? Is this a Title I service?
“It really doesn’t get any more wonky than that and I think people are trying to characterize this and pitch it in a way that the mass audiences will understand it and that is resulting in some hyperbole that is really apocalyptic and is not reflective of the reality of what we’re doing,” said Carr.
But when the vigorous debate spills into activists posting Chairman Pai’s home address on social media and even disrupting FCC proceedings or people like Kimmel referring to Pai on national television as a “jackhole,” the passion has gone too far.
“There’s a lot of passion. I get that. but the vitriol that we’re seeing certainly crosses the line. Our meeting was interrupted with a bomb threat. There’s been racist and other attacks. There’s been death threats against commissioners.
“People can strongly disagree about the merits of this issue and they should. We should have a vigorous debate. But when you dehumanize people and call them jackholes and shills, that doesn’t advance the debate in a substantive way. I think it gives cover for people who then go further with these racist attacks and death threat attacks,” said Carr.
Carr is not worried about the courts striking down the FCC decision although several states appear poised to try. He says the Supreme Court gave the green light to classifying the Internet under Title I 15 years ago.
The net neutrality reversal will also take a few months to take effect, while various government agencies take part in the process.