Last Week in Tech Law & Policy Vol. 7: The Politics of Net Neutrality

By Austin Gaddis (Colorado Law 2L)

As the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prepares for its much-anticipated vote on Chairman Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal on Thursday, Republicans on the Commission and in Congress are using the opportunity to stage one final battle before the votes are in and the lawsuits begin. Under the Chairman’s proposal, both fixed and mobile broadband services would be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act, which would ban throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization of Internet traffic by Internet service providers (ISPs).

Commissioner Ajit Pai, a Republican, has taken the helm as the chief critic of Wheeler’s plan, often dubbing it “the President’s plan” in a reference to President Obama’s public push to put pressure on the FCC—an independent regulatory agency—to adopt strong net neutrality regulations. Commissioner Pai’s foray into the debate represents the most high-profile opposition of his tenure at the Commission.

On Capitol Hill, Republican lawmakers are also using their platform (and gavels) to put implicit and explicit pressure on FCC as it prepares for Thursday’s vote. Currently, three congressional committees have lined up to investigate the White House’s influence on FCC’s decision-making process, especially since Chairman Wheeler seemed to be signaling a  different approach to the net neutrality proceedings before the President’s public campaign in support of strong Title II regulations late last year. One committee, the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has decided to delve even more into the commission’s operations, calling attention to Chairman Wheeler’s use of the agency’s “delegated authority.”

In an address at Colorado Law several weeks ago, Chairman Wheeler outlined his vision for the future of broadband under a Title II regime, delivering what TechCrunch called an “explanatory manifesto of the Chairman’s thinking.” In the speech, he attempted to respond to critics of his plan who think of Title II regulation as an outdated relic of the past, calling instead for a modernized Title II that addresses the unique opportunities and challenges that the Internet poses in the contemporary world.

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