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Killing net neutrality means no one is looking out for consumers’ interest, says FCC commissioner

The FCC is expected to roll back net neutrality rules on Thursday, a move that could have significant implications for Americans' access to the internet. FCC chairman Ajit Pai is pushing to kill the Obama-era rules, which ensure that internet providers treat all content on the web equally. Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat on the commission, joins Judy Woodruff to explain why she opposes the change.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    This Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, is expected to take a vote that could have significant implications for Americans' access to the Internet.

    The FCC is expected to roll back rules that were imposed to protect what's called net neutrality, regulations passed during the Obama administration. The idea was to ensure that Internet providers, including big companies like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T, treat all content on the Web equally, that they provide a kind of open highway, and are not allowed to charge more or even block your ability to see content from other companies, like Netflix, Facebook and Google.

    The FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, is pushing to kill the Obama era rules, saying they actually aren't helping consumers. He argues the Web needs less regulation.

    We interviewed Pai when he first released the proposal.

    And, tonight, we hear from a Democrat on the commission, Mignon Clyburn, who is opposed to the move.

    Commissioner Clyburn, thank you for being with us.

    So, what is it about Chairman Pai's move that you object to?

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    It leaves the consumer in a regulatory free zone. No one is looking out for their best interest.

    The question is simple- Do you as a consumer control your experiences online, or will it be that multibillion-dollar Internet service provider? It's very simple.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, he has argued — and you know this very well. He says, what we have got now, thanks to the Obama administration, are heavy-handed government regulations. He says they discourage innovation, that investment in these companies is down as a result of these regulations.

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    There are no credible studies that show that investment is down.

    The Internet rules that we have in place today, the open Internet rules that we passed in 2015, they threw away over 700 rules and 25 provisions that we governed ourselves back in the old telecom era.

    So, the rules are light-touch, forward-looking, and they take into account that the Internet today is different than it was even 10 years ago. Internet service providers are sometimes in the content business. Some of them own their media — own media companies.

  • Judy Woodruff:


  • Mignon Clyburn:

    So, the question is, will they have the incentive to advantage, to promote, to give favor to them to their own content? Or will there be an even playing field? And that's the question. And that is at risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Again, I know you're familiar with Mr. Pai's pushback.

    He's saying, well, we have had is heavy regulation and what we need to go back to is, in his words, light-touch regulatory environment like what we had from the late '90s through 2015, when the Obama administration imposed these new rules.

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    Well, my answer is this. These rules that we have today were built on an era that started back in 2005, when there were Internet principles put in place, because there were issues.

    And the FCC back in 2005 said, we need an agreement. Internet service providers, you need to treat applications and services and access over the Internet equal. They said that. But the voluntary approach that they created back then because of the number of complaints that we had, it was obvious that it didn't work.

    We needed to codify or put those rules on paper in place. And that's what we have today. And the Internet has thrived. And our individual experiences, they have just ballooned because of the certainty that we have that we know protections are in place, that no one can favor or block traffic when it comes to my experiences over the Internet.

    But that is at risk coming Thursday.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Commissioner Clyburn, you have also — you have been openly saying that you're concerned about what this could mean for communities of color. What are you referring to there?

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    We would have never heard about Ferguson, Missouri, but for the Internet.

    People on the ground were telling the stories. And then and only then did the rest of the media ecosystem weigh in and cover it. So you have got communities that no one else is listening to. They're telling their own story. They're promoting their own products.

    Their services are now part of the lexicon of the American experience. But if we go back to the days where there are no protections, where an Internet service provider can suppress your experience, can favor someone else's traffic, cannot tell your story, then so many communities of color, poor, rural communities, we wouldn't hear about them.

    They would, in essence, not be on the media map, and that would be a shame if we go back to the days where you had gatekeepers.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, specifically, what are you worried that, say, a Verizon or a Comcast could do?

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    I worry that if there's MignonClyburn.com, and Verizon has a competing business with MignonClyburn.com, then they would favor that experience or the trapping that would promote their company or their business interest, and mine would be at risk.

    So it is about an even playing field. It is about small start-ups being able to compete if they have a superior product.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, just yesterday, in an apparent attempt to address some of these criticisms, Chairman Pai came up with a proposal. He said, there has been this agreement between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission whereby, once this takes effect, the FTC is going to be given the responsibility of going after these Internet providers if they engage in unfair practices.

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    The FTC is an agency that has absolutely no experience when it comes to net neutrality protections.

    The FTC is an agency that doesn't play in this space when it comes to utility or telecommunications providers. These are the same providers that give us Internet access. And if you don't have any experience or if you don't have the authority, which the FTC doesn't, I believe, then who is there to protect you?

    And so that memorandum of understanding, that agreement was an afterthought.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Finally, this vote is expected the happen on Thursday. It's expected the chairman is going to prevail. He's got the majority. But once that happens, they're going to be court challenges. Do you expect this is going to go on for some time?

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    I do, which will create uncertainty in the market.

    We have a system that is the envy of every other country in the world. Why break it? Why cause disruption? Why?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, thank you very much.

  • Mignon Clyburn:

    My pleasure.

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