50 mayors tell FCC Chairman Pai to not overturn net neutrality rules

The mayors say maintaining an open internet is crucial to drive economic and educational benefits to a community.

A group of 50 U.S. mayors sent a letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in a collective effort to ask that he keeps the current rules, which are based on Title II of the Communications Act, in place.

The mayors wrote that maintaining an open internet is crucial to drive economic and educational benefits to a community.

“Our economies, educational institutions, government agencies, and communities, in general, increasingly rely on broadband connectivity and the transformative power of the internet to drive economic growth, individual and community development, and improve government service and accountability for all our citizens,” the mayors said. “Critical to our communities’ reliance on the internet is the confidence that our use of the internet is not subject to the whims, discretion, or economic incentives of gatekeeper service providers to control or manipulate the experience of internet users.”

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A big part of preserving the open internet, maintains the group, is Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

“The 2015 Open Internet Order ensconced the principles of Net Neutrality, which protect and preserve this confidence, in enforceable rules grounded in the strongest legal authority, Title II,” the mayors said.

Besides calling to maintain the Title II framework, the group of mayors also objected to the FCC’s proposal to rely on voluntary commitments from service providers, which would then be enforced by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

“The FCC’s rules appear to contemplate a marketplace in which service providers, faced with limited or no competition, will be subject to oversight only to the extent that their conduct deviates from whatever commitments they make upfront,” the mayors said. “Moreover, the disclosure of voluntary commitments required under the commission’s new transparency rule could be changed at any time by service providers, rendering them meaningful only to the extent providers choose not to amend their promises to permit future harmful conduct.”

Additionally, the mayors said that placing oversight in the FTC’s hands means there will be a lack of proactive enforcement.  

“The commission’s preference for Federal Trade Commission (FTC) enforcement means harm to the internet and consumers must occur before the FTC can act, and then only after an elaborate and prolonged FTC proceeding,” the mayors said. “We are also not confident that the FTC can or will intervene in a timely manner so as to avoid leaving our communities without choices and without the advanced wireless services needed to prosper in today’s economy. Broadband connectivity is too central to our economy, education, healthcare, and culture to allow abusive practices to distort access to information as a predicate for government action.”  

Another concern cited is the FCC’s proposal to preempt state and local government’s ability to develop policies that take into account the unique needs and profiles of each community.

“Each city, town, village, county, and state in this nation is unique, and faces its own challenges in embracing the digital future,” the mayors said. “The commission’s proposal prohibits local leaders such as ourselves from protecting our constituents, businesses, and economies from abusive service.”

During the FCC’s upcoming meeting next Thursday, the Republican-led commission will likely vote to overturn the current rules. Pai recently circulated a proposal to overturn the Title II classification for the current net neutrality rules. This proposal, which is known as a Report and Order on Restoring Internet Freedom, would reverse the agency’s 2015 decision to regulate broadband internet access service under Title II of the Communications Act.

For his part, Pai is showing no signs of backing down. He issued a statement today citing how several small ISPs told him during a trip that the 2015 Title II Order had harmed their businesses.

“One constant theme I heard was how Title II had slowed investment and injected regulatory uncertainty into their business plans—in short, heavy-handed regulation is making it harder for smaller providers to close the digital divide in rural America,” Pai said. “By lightening the regulatory burden from Washington, we will unleash providers to do what they do best: serve their communities and provide broadband access to residents across the country.”