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FCC may scale back net neutrality

March 4, 2017 at 5:09 PM EDT
The Federal Communications Commission has outlined a list of proposals it will discuss at a meeting later this month that span from ending the use of cellphones in prison to blocking robocalls -- one of the biggest issues for consumers. Washington Post reporter Brian Fung joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about potential policy changes.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: This week, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai outlined a list of proposals on the table for consideration at the agency’s meeting later this month, including: blocking of robocalls, which are the number one complaint from consumers; ending the use of cell phones in prisons; reforming cell service to give providers more flexibility and providing broadband to customers; and improving the video relay service, a tool used by the deaf to communicate using sign language.

Joining me from Washington to discuss the FCC agenda and possible policy changes is “Washington Post” reporter Brian Fung.

Brian, so, let’s start with the positive. The level of transparency and exactly what’s going to be coming up at the meeting, that’s kind of good news for all the people who are affected by it to kind of line up and speak their mines.

BRIAN FUNG, WASHINGTON POST: Absolutely. The FCC previously didn’t have to release the full text of any decision it made before it actually made it. Now, under Ajit Pai, that policy has changed so that now, the public can actually see what the commission is going to vote on before that actually happens.

HARI SREENIVASAN: There’s also been a lot of talk about how many steps Ajit Pai is going to be taking to roll back some of the things that his predecessor, Tom Wheeler, put in place, especially when it comes to net neutrality. Give us the background.

BRIAN FUNG: You know, all of these items that are taking place on this month’s agenda are kind of coming under the shadow of this big effort that many people in Washington expect to happen surrounded net neutrality and broadband privacy, these rules that the FCC under Pai’s predecessor, Tom Wheeler, passed in order to impose new rules on Internet providers.

Now, these rules that were passed were pretty controversial at the time. Although, many consumer advocates say that they were necessary to preserve a free and open Internet. But Republicans, such as Pai, have criticized the rule, saying this is an example of governor overreach and will depress Internet provider investments in their networks.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, some of the concerns that consumer groups have is whether or not there will be a fast lane and a slow lane. That was the fear, right? If telecom companies are able to strike different partnerships, they can provide certain pieces of content better, which means other pieces of content might not come up so fast when you search for them.

BRIAN FUNG: That’s right. Now, in some cases, some Internet providers have committed not to doing that, but the fear among consumer advocates is that, you know, some Internet providers may not be disclosing certain new business models that cold potentially harm consumers. And the rules are generally attempt to address those potential harms by giving the government the power to investigate and go after companies that are thinking about or introducing some of these programs.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And then there was also some concern about the privacy rules that went into place about, you know, right now, my cell phone provider pretty much knows exactly where I am. They know lots and lots of things about me, whether or not they should be able to sell some of that data, even if it’s anonymized, to make a profit.

BRIAN FUNG: Exactly. So, some of the rules that were passed under the Wheeler tenure involved these privacy rules that are basically designed to prevent Internet providers from abusing the data that they collect on customers like you and me. And so, all of the rules that were built by the FCC to address privacy are aimed at preventing Internet providers from abusing that level of information that they have on you.

But under Ajit Pai, some of those rules are likely to be rolled back. In fact, the FCC has already issued a partial stay of a certain slice of the rules that govern how Internet providers must protect the data that they have on you to prevent that from falling into the hands of hackers, for instance.

Now, the rules more broadly have been subject to a petition by industry to have — to be rolled back. But the FCC has still yet to vote on that overall petition.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right. Brian Fung of the “Washington Post” — thanks so much.

BRIAN FUNG: My pleasure.

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