You know that feeling when you just really cannot be bothered to do any work? Of course you do! It’s Friday afternoon. You’re staring at the screen, waiting in vain for Twitter to provide some decent distractions, maybe scrolling through OpenTable for brunch reservations, fantasizing about sleeping in tomorrow. Someone who certainly knows that feel is FCC chair Ajit Pai, who, according to recent reports, outlined a plan this week to get net neutrality off his plate. Because, ugh, maintaining an open internet is hard, you guys.
Several outlets reported last night that Pai discussed a plan with telecom trade groups this week to overturn net neutrality rules, and return oversight of internet companies to the FTC. The plan would also include a voluntary agreement with internet service providers to abide by certain net neutrality principles, such as not blocking certain websites.
Details are still relatively scarce, and neither Pai nor the FCC have given much in the way of an official word. But this could lead us to one possible conclusion: This man is lazy as hell.
The FTC has a much broader, and much weaker, form of oversight. As we’ve written before, the FTC mostly regulates companies’ trade practices on whether they’re unfair or deceptive, whereas the FCC is able to apply a broader public interest standard. And whereas the FTC doesn’t really issue rules, the FCC can, meaning it can prevent abuses by ISPs rather than just punish them after they’ve already happened.
Pushing oversight to the FTC has two advantages for Ajit Pai: One, it’s likely to be favorable to his BFFs at the telecom companies, because the FTC’s oversight is so much weaker. Two, he just doesn’t have to deal with that shit anymore.
Pai has previously indicated his, uh, strong preference for letting the FTC handle things. On broadband privacy, for example, Pai has consistently advocated for FTC oversight. And in an op-ed published recently in the Washington Post, Pai and Maureen Ohlhausen—who also happens to be the acting chairman of the FTC—noted that, with regards to the controversy over a recent decision to dial back internet privacy rules, “we’ll be working together to restore the FTC’s authority to police ISPs’ privacy practices.” (Free-market conservatives have pushed for the FTC to take over broader internet oversight for years.) Clearly, Pai has thought a great deal about how he wants to spend his time, and it sure seems like he’d rather just let the FTC direct traffic and drink a beer in his backyard hammock instead.*
Net neutrality, which ensures that internet service providers can’t prioritize traffic, was brought in by Obama’s FCC in 2015 when it enacted the Open Internet Order. That order reclassified internet services as “common carriers,” like phone companies, known as the Title II reclassification, meaning the FCC could regulate it.
But regulating ISPs is so much work. And honestly Jerry in HR heard those FTC guys go home at like 3pm on Fridays and take at least an hour for lunch, so why shouldn’t they do it, too?
*It is unconfirmed if Ajit Pai actually owns a backyard hammock.