Open Question: Reg Rollback Roils D.C.


WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission’s vote last week to roll back most net neutrality regulations was interrupted by a brief evacuation of the meeting room for security reasons, which spoke volumes about the rancor engendered by what opponents saw as the death of the internet and what ISPs saw as a victory over regulatory overreach.

Few things are clear about exactly what happens after the 3-2 vote, though one certainty is that it will be challenged in court. There are already pledges to do so by TV writers, activists and New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who vowed to lead a multistate legal battle against the rules rollback.

There is also expected to be pressure on both sides of Congress to weigh in on how to protect internet openness — including such edge providers as Google and Amazon — and the business models necessary to bankroll and deploy the conduits for that open internet.

But the champagne had not even been popped over the victory when cable and telco ISPs signaled they were willing to talk about Congress stepping in to legislate bright-line rules against blocking and throttling, as well as against some forms of paid prioritization — specifically degrading service, then charging more for un-degrading it.

NCTA-The Internet & Television Association chief Michael Powell said he would support legislation prohibiting such actions, the kind of conduct Schneiderman said he was concerned about in going to court.

Both sides recognize that the regulatory pendulum could swing back under a new political regime.

The FCC has tried for more than a decade to come up with guidelines, then rules, on how consumers should be able to access the internet, and what companies could and could not do to manage and/or monetize their networks.