Last month's election of Donald Trump means the FCC is about to flip from Democratic control to Republicans, and one of the priorities of the regulatory agency, once its new makeup is established, could be the rolling back of net neutrality rules that require internet providers to treat all web traffic equally.
That's the hope of two current FCC commissioners, at least. In a speech to the anti-regulatory group Free State Foundation earlier this month, Michael O'Rielly called the open internet rules, approved in February 2015, as "wrongheaded, harmful to consumers and the industry, costly, and ultimately unworthy of continuation." On C-SPAN's "The Communicators," he said net neutrality would be a "priority" and that Title II, the designation given to phone carriers, and now ISPs, "should never have been adopted in the first place."
In a nutshell, the net neutrality rules treat broadband service like a public utility and prevent ISPs from offering preferential treatment to sites that pay for faster service. The rules passed the panel in a 3-2 vote that came down party lines, with O'Rielly and the other Republican, Ajit Pai, opposing.
"On the day that [net neutrality] was adopted, I said that 'I don't know whether this plan will be vacated by a court, reversed by Congress, or overturned by a future Commission," Pai told the same Free State group. "But I do believe that its days are numbered.' Today, I am more confident than ever that this prediction will come true."
As previously reported, Trump hasn't tipped his hand as to who he favors to replace FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who intends to step down after inauguration day. Trump will also get to replace Jessica Rosenworcel, whose term expires at the end of the month. (The Senate recently adjourned without a vote to renew her term.) If he fills both slots with members of his party, as expected, the agency will have a 4-1 Republican majority. The next president hasn't talked much about net neutrality, but in 2014 called it a "power grab" by the Obama administration.
As Pai noted, Congress could also introduce anti-net neutrality legislation that would supersede any FCC action. In his speech at the Free State event, Pai voiced optimism that during a Trump administration, the FCC will "shift from playing defense to going on offense." Similarly, O'Rielly said he looked forward to clearing the "regulatory underbrush."