Thursday, August 24, 2017

Ajit Pai, United States President Donald Trump’s Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), recently responded to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that was filed May 1 for complaints filed with the FCC against Internet access providers. The May 1 FOIA request said that the documentation of these complaints should be made available before the end of the comment period on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) on “Restoring Internet Freedom,” published in draft on April 27 and officially adopted on May 18.

“Pursuant to FOIA, the FCC must redact any personal information from the over 47,000 documents that have been requested before they can be released,” Pai said via a spokesperson. This is a change from his position on July 17, in which he said that releasing them would be impractical.

This change came shortly after the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed a letter with the (FCC) requesting the release of records on these complaints. The EFF said this information is required to help answer a question the FCC asked in their NPRM about whether there had been any “actual harm” experienced by Internet users. The EFF said that failure to comply with this FOIA request before the deadline for comments on this NPRM “raises procedural concerns under the Administrative Procedure Act.” The FCC’s comments on this FOIA request seem to have come at least partly as a response to this letter.

This is another salvo in an ongoing battle between consumer advocates including the EFF and major Internet access providers. It is a battle, because a majority on Trump’s FCC favors restoring the freedom that Internet access providers exercised before the 2015 Title II Order made net neutrality enforceable. That freedom included blocking, throttling, altering (including stripping encryption) and redirecting users’ requests for information from the Internet, according to “Joint Comments of Internet Engineers, Pioneers, and Technologists on the Technical Flaws in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rule-making”, filed July 17 with the FCC.

The number of consumers concerned about this began to grow considerably after documentation appeared in 2007 that Internet access providers were blocking certain requests from users for legal content. As documentation of other questionable practices began to appear, more people actively expressed concerns about this.

Between 2007 and 2014 the FCC tried several different remedies only to have them overturned in the courts. A record 3.7 million comments were filed on this issue before a September 15, 2014 deadline.

That activism and the rejection by courts of earlier FCC remedies led to the Title II Order, adopted in early 2015. That order requires Internet access providers to treat all Internet traffic equally—known as net neutrality.

That order has been accepted by the courts but not by the major Internet access providers nor the Trump administration.

On July 17, the EFF filed comments claiming that if FCC were “to move forward with some [parts of this] NPRM then the result will have a disastrous effect on innovation in the Internet ecosystem as a whole.” This follows, they explained, because blocking, throttling, redirecting and altering content make it infeasible for a small company or start-up to develop new Internet services that could otherwise have substantial benefits for humanity. This would also have a substantial negative impact of people’s First Amendment rights, the EFF claimed.