The easiest way to let major internet providers violate net neutrality principles is not to repeal the work done under President Barack Obama. It’s to just not enforce the rules at all.
That’s already what Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the FCC, is doing.
The FCC has ended its inquires into three “zero rating” programs, in which wireless companies let consumers visit websites and stream content without counting against data caps.
AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon had each been the subject of in inquiry from the FCC into their zero-rating arrangements.
Zero rating deals can be popular among consumers, who might otherwise avoid streaming music or video for fear of eating into data plans. These agreements which have rapidly become common between the biggest wireless companies and the biggest tech companies have caused concern for net neutrality advocates who see them as a way for some companies to gain a major advantage over others.
“Today, the Wireless Telecommunications Bureau is closing its investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings,” Pai wrote in a statement. “These free-data plans have proven to be popular among consumers, particularly low-income Americans, and have enhanced competition in the wireless marketplace. Going forward, the Federal Communications Commission will not focus on denying Americans free data. Instead, we will concentrate on expanding broadband deployment and encouraging innovative service offerings.”
These zero rating deals had come under fire from the previous FCC administration and its chairman, Tom Wheeler.
Wheeler stepped down shortly after the election of Donald Trump. Trump then appointed Pai as FCC chairman, a move widely seen as the first step toward weakening the net neutrality regulations that Wheeler had implemented.
Pai was among the most outspoken critics of the push to enact what become known as “strong net neutrality,” in which the FCC designated broadband and wireless internet as a utility. The move allowed the regulator to more aggressively police how internet providers handled traffic on their networks. This change was heavily supported by net neutrality advocates as well as Obama, and strongly opposed by the major internet providers and conservative trade groups.
Wireless, and in particular zero rating, had been seen as one of the top issues for the FCC to confront in the wake of the move. The efforts by Wheeler represented the regulator’s first major move to push back against questionable deals.
Now, with the FCC abandoning its inquiries, telecom companies have been given the green light to pursue zero rating deals.