January 17, 2019

FCC net neutrality repeal would hit home

Ajit Pai, chair of the Federal Communications Commission.

By Elizabeth Hewitt

For VTDigger

The web is vital to Art Bell’s film company, Dreamlike Pictures.

From Bell’s base in Burlington, he frequently works with clients and video production partners across the country.

“We routinely move gigabytes, many hundreds of gigabytes, around the internet,” Bell said.

But an upcoming Federal Communications Commission vote could have profound implications for his work. Bell fears that a repeal of regulations put in place during the Obama administration will alter the internet and severely hinder his work.

“We’d probably be out of business,” Bell said.

Late next week, the FCC is expected to vote on a proposal from commission chair Ajit Pai that would also transfer oversight of internet service providers to the Federal Trade Commission.

Bell is among many Vermonters and public officials concerned about what a potential change in federal regulations could mean for internet users across the country, particularly in rural areas.

So-called net neutrality rules give consumers free and ready access to all content on the Internet. If net neutrality rules are repealed, internet service providers could block or favor particular products or websites.

Opponents of the change say new rules could allow internet service providers to charge tolls for access to websites or slow down service to small online companies, news organizations and citizens groups.

All three members of Vermont’s congressional delegation have come out against Pai’s proposal. The Gov. Scott administration has voiced support for net neutrality regulations. And Vermont businesses that rely on the web are watching with apprehension about what changes would mean for them.

In announcing his proposal, Pai characterized the rules enacted during the Obama administration as “heavy handed.”

“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” Pai said in a statement last month. “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them, and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

Supporters of Pai’s proposal include major internet service providers, such as Comcast.

In a November blog post, Comcast executive David Cohen applauded Pai’s proposal to “repeal the ill-advised and outdated burden” of regulations the FCC adopted in 2015, which, they say, “harmed broadband investment and innovation.”

The company vowed to maintain customers’ experience, however, promising that they “will not block, throttle, or discriminate against lawful content.”

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