Open internet advocates slammed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai's plan to dismantle net neutrality, announced as expected on Wednesday, and vowed to fight him "tooth and nail."
Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon, said in a speech to the anti-regulation group FreedomWorks that he wants to get rid of the rule that classifies the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act and prohibits Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from discriminating against websites or charging more for faster loading times.
Doing so would leave internet users "at the mercy of the phone and cable companies—some of the most-hated companies in America," said Craig Aaron, president of the open internet advocacy group Free Press, at a press conference with senators on Wednesday.
Pai's announcement comes just weeks after he met with telecommunications lobbyists. Opponents slammed him as a puppet of the industry.
Evan Greer, campaign director at the digital rights group Fight for the Future, said in a statement, "Pai's speech was an insult to the intelligence of internet users. He attempts to portray basic free speech protections as heavy handed government regulation [...] Internet users will fight tooth and nail to defend our basic right to connect, create, learn, and share."
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The Open Internet Order, enshrined by the FCC in 2015 under the leadership of then-chair Tom Wheeler, blocks ISPs from taking advantage of websites. Pai's replacement plan would ask service providers to sign a voluntary agreement to maintain a set of conditions that has yet to be disclosed—but, as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) noted Tuesday, "nothing in the law will require those companies to keep those promises. They are more than free to change their pledges to reshape the internet, charge higher prices, and invade consumer privacy."
Pai is expected to release more details on Thursday.
Greer continued, "Paving over the internet into fast lanes for those who can afford to pay and slow lanes for the rest of us will turn the web into a place where the wealthiest and most powerful can be heard, while ordinary people and alternative voices are drowned out."
A coalition of more than 800 tech startups, including Etsy, FourSquare, Imgur, Upworthy, and the Linux Foundation, sent a letter to Pai Wednesday morning urging him not to follow through with the plan.
"Without net neutrality, the incumbents who provide access to the internet would be able to pick winners or losers in the market," the letter reads. "They could impede traffic from our services in order to favor their own services or established competitors. Or they could impose new tolls on us, inhibiting consumer choice."