FCC, in draft memo, says FTC will keep providers in line after net neutrality is overturned

The Federal Trade Commission will likely take the lead on imposing penalties for ISPs under Title I rules. (Image: FCC)

On the eve of a vote that will likely put an end to the current net neutrality structure, the FCC has released a draft memorandum of understanding (MOU) on how it and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) would enforce penalties on ISPs that harm consumers.

As part of the FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to overturn the current rules, the FTC would oversee ISPs’ actions and enforce any penalties if rules are not followed or abused.

A key element of Pai's new net neutrality proposal is to reverse the agency’s 2015 decision to regulate broadband internet access service under Title II of the Communications Act. The regulator will reclassify ISPs as information providers under Title I. 

This proposal has driven further division within the FCC. Pai claims that reverting to Title I will drive service providers to enhance network investments, while critics of the measure including fellow commissioners say it will strip consumers of the freedom to access fast internet speeds and content. 

Pai said in a statement that the new structure will give the FCC and FTC greater freedom to punish any ISPs that cause consumers harm.

RELATED: FCC’s Pai circulates draft order to overturn net neutrality rules

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai
Ajit Pai

“The Memorandum of Understanding will be a critical benefit for online consumers because it outlines the robust process by which the FCC and FTC will safeguard the public interest,” Pai said in a statement. “Instead of saddling the Internet with heavy-handed regulations, we will work together to take targeted action against bad actors.”

Maureen Ohlhausen, acting FTC chairman, issued a similar tone in her statement.

“The FTC is committed to ensuring that Internet service providers live up to the promises they make to consumers,” Ohlhausen said. “The MOU we are developing with the FCC, in addition to the decades of FTC law enforcement experience in this area, will help us carry out this important work.”

The draft MOU, which is being released today, outlines how the FCC and FTC will work collaboratively to protect consumers, including:

Informal complaint review: The FCC will review informal complaints related to ISP compliance with the disclosure obligations set forth in the new transparency rule. Those obligations include publicly providing information concerning an ISP’s practices with respect to blocking, throttling, paid prioritization, and congestion management. If an ISP fails to make the required disclosures—either in whole or in part—the FCC will act.

FTC enforcement: The FTC will investigate and take enforcement action as needed against ISPs concerning the accuracy of those disclosures, as well as other deceptive or unfair acts or practices involving their broadband services.

FCC Commissioner Clyburn Image: FCC
Mignon Clyburn

Focus on collaboration: The FCC and the FTC will share legal and technical expertise, including informal complaints regarding the subject matter of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Both agencies also will collaborate on consumer and industry outreach and education. The FCC’s proposed Restoring Internet Freedom Order, which the agency is expected to vote on at its Dec. 14 meeting, would reverse a 2015 agency decision to reclassify broadband internet access service under Title II of the Telecom Act.

As expected, Pai’s proposal is already drawing fire within the FCC.

FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn blasted Pai’s proposal, calling it nothing more an “an attempt to paper over weaknesses in the Chairman’s draft proposal repealing the FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules.”

“Two years ago, the FCC signed a much broader pro-consumer agreement with the FTC that already covers this issue,” Clyburn said. “There is no reason to do this again other than as a smoke and mirrors PR stunt, distracting from the FCC’s planned destruction of net neutrality protections later this week.”