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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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June 8, 2024

Net neutrality debate brings FCC commissioner to A&M

Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai will visit Texas A&M to lead a forum on Internet regulation and the FCC’s role in net neutrality. The forum will include six witnesses representing multiple viewpoints concerning the issue of Internet regulation.
Kristin King, communications and external relations director for the Bush Foundation, said the forum is a great chance for students and members of the community to communicate directly with the FCC regarding a ruling that will have a large impact on consumers as well as Internet service providers.
“I think that this is an excellent opportunity to engage directly with the commissioner on this issue,” King said. “It is a unique opportunity to have one of the FCC commissioners coming outside of the beltway to talk to constituents. This is certainly a ruling that is going to have an impact on almost every consumer in the country, so I think that the forum is a fantastic opportunity to be a part of the process.”
In 2010, the FCC adopted the Open Internet order, which tried to instill a set of rules calling for all Internet service providers to be transparent about their policies and to be prevented from blocking any legal content or creating “fast lanes.”
The Open Internet order was made in an effort to protect net neutrality — the principle that Internet service providers should be treated equally and not be able to charge different prices based on the user, content, site, platform or other factors.
In May, a U.S. Court of Appeals struck down key components of these rules and said the Open Internet order contradicted a previous FCC decision that put Internet service providers beyond its regulatory reach.
The court did, however, uphold the portions that regard service provider transparency.
Pai said the FCC has been considering how best to proceed in protecting net neutrality after this ruling, and the forum is a way of including the opinions of constituents from outside Washington D.C.
“In May, the chairman of the FCC teed up a lot of ideas for how the FCC could proceed. We’ve gotten a lot of public comments in the months since,” Pai said. A large component of the debate over Internet regulation concerns the idea of creating these possible “fast lanes” through paid prioritization.
In order to have the authority to regulate ISPs in a way that would prohibit paid prioritization, the FCC would have to reclassify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which was designed to combat the monopoly telephone companies of the 20th century.
Doing so would impose a significant amount of economic regulations on ISPs.
An alternative discussed by the FCC would be relying on section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which would pose fewer regulations on Internet service providers, but would not lend the FCC the same amount of regulatory authority over service providers.
Robert Hunt, vice president of Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative and one of the panelists for Tuesday’s forum, said reclassification of ISPs as Title II common carriers would impose burdensome reporting regulations that would weigh heavily on smaller ISPs. Hunt said Section 706 regulations could be adapted to preserve net neutrality, as well as support the small broadband providers that bring Internet access to rural markets.
“There appears to be a camp that would like to heavily regulate the broadband service providers,” Hunt said. “We need to talk about what level of regulation is appropriate for a broadband service providers. For us and a lot of providers, regulation might be alright in a monopoly environment, where you regulate one segment, but you can get broadband from a lot of places. We want to talk about how to encourage availability of the internet.”
Pai said he hopes the forum will engender discussion as to what an appropriate level of regulation entails.
“This is a really complicated area, and I think that it will be worth our while to get those perspectives,” Pai said. “I also hope that my colleagues will try to get out of Washington more, and listen to the voices of people who aren’t able to come to Washington are heard. It makes the agency much more responsive to public opinion.”
The forum will begin at 10 a.m. on Tuesday and is open to the public. The event will also be live-screened at the Bush Foundation’s website.

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