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What's Next in the Plan to Kill Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules

The Federal Communications Commission asked for comments on a proposal to kill Obama-era net neutrality rules and they got an earful.
A pro-net neutrality Internet activist attends a rally in the neighborhood where U.S. Barack Obama attended a fundraiser in Los Angeles
A pro-net neutrality Internet activist attends a rally in Los Angeles, California. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

The Federal Communications Commission asked for comments on a proposal to kill Obama-era net neutrality rules — and got an earful.

The comment period, which ended Wednesday night, set a new record, bringing in more than 22 million comments. The previous record was 3.7 million, which happened during the last time the FCC debated net neutrality.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai announced his plan to roll back net neutrality rules in April. It's a process he says will promote competition, create jobs, and give more Americans access to high-speed internet.

Related: FCC Unveils Plan to Kill Obama-Era Net Neutrality Rules

"Nothing about the internet was broken in 2015," he said, speaking of when the FCC moved to regulate the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. "It was all about politics."

How the Internet Is Regulated Now

The internet is now regulated under Title II, which was created in the 1930s to regulate the Ma Bell telephone monopoly. By applying these rules to internet service providers, the FCC has more authority to regulate the behavior of internet service providers, including helping to control what consumers are charged and ensuring there is no paid prioritization online, which would create so-called fast and slow lanes.

Among the four basic points are not blocking websites for certain users, no throttling (creating a fast and slow lane), fostering more transparency between consumers and ISPs, and finally, no paid prioritization to move to the front of the line.

Pai, who has called the internet "the greatest free market success in history," said he wants to go back to the internet rules instituted in 1996 under President Clinton and a Republican Congress.

Why Pai Wants a Change

Pai has said heavy-handed net neutrality rules have led to reduced investment, cutting out 75,000 to 100,000 jobs, such as laying cable and digging trenches to help bring high-speed internet access to rural and low income areas.

The current framework, he said, is actually "widening the digital divide," because companies are avoiding rural and low-income areas because it may seem like it's "not worth the time and money to deploy there."

What's Next

While millions of individuals (and possibly a few bots) weighed in on the proposal, so did companies.

In its first public comments on the issue, Apple urged the FCC on Thursday to preserve strong net neutrality rules.

“Lifting the current ban on paid prioritization arrangements could allow broadband providers to favor the transmission of one provider’s content or services (or the broadband provider’s own online content or services) over other online content, fundamentally altering the internet as we know it today — to the detriment of consumers, competition, and innovation," Apple said in its comments.

The commission will sift through the public comments and then likely vote before the end of the year. But for now, don't expect any big changes.