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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai Says No Decision Made on Future of Net Neutrality

Variety logo Variety 1/31/2017 Ted Johnson
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Ajit Pai, in his first press conference since being elevated to FCC chairman, said that no determination has been made as to what approach he will take to the agency’s net neutrality rules, as public interest groups mobilize to retain the set of regulations passed in 2015.

Pai was an opponent of the FCC’s approach, and President Trump’s selection of him to lead the agency has led to speculation that he would move to roll back the agency’s order.

But Pai said that they were still studying the issue, and declined to go into more specifics.

“I favor a free and open Internet, and I oppose Title II,” said Pai, referring to the FCC’s move in 2015 to reclassify broadband service as a common carrier. That was a regulatory maneuver that gave the agency a firmer legal footing to impose rules that bar Internet providers from blocking or slowing traffic, or from creating “fast lanes” for sale to deliver content at speedier rates to consumers. Major Internet providers have challenged the rules in court, but so far they have been upheld.

Pai also wouldn’t comment on how he planned to approach enforcement of the FCC rules, other than to note the recent passage of an FCC order that exempts smaller operators from the net neutrality transparency requirements.

Pai did announce the formation of the Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee, which he said will study ways to “remove barriers to network investment and accelerate broadband buildout.”

“I want to be holistic and figure out all of the tools from a regulatory and legislative perspective to enable the digital economy to thrive so everyone has a full and equal opportunity to participate, rather than just watch,” he said.

Major Internet providers have challenged the net neutrality rules and argue that they have stifled investment. But former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has argued that the companies’ own public announcements show that they are continuing to build out their broadband networks.

Pai did signal that they would continue to look at removing unnecessary regulations. On Tuesday, the FCC voted 3-0 to eliminate rules that require TV stations to include public letter and e-mail comments in their public inspection files, and another that requires cable systems to give public notice of where their principal head end is located.

Pai also said that no determination has been made on reforming the process the FCC takes to establish regulations and enforce its rules. Some members of Trump’s transition team have advocated an overhaul of FCC operations, including moving consumer protection authority to the Federal Trade Commission.

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