The Federal Trade Commission has a long-established role in preserving online competition, Acting Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen said.
The head of the Federal Trade Commission hailed her agency’s ability to protect online competition ahead of a likely regulatory rollback that would make the agency responsible for maintaining a free and open internet.
Last week, Federal Communications Commissioner Ajit Pai introduced a plan to reclassify broadband companies as non-common carriers, which would dismantle Obama-era regulations that prevent internet services from speeding up, slowing down or blocking access to certain websites.
The FTC was responsible for policing the internet before the 2015 expansion of net neutrality regulations, and if Pai’s order passes, the agency will re-inherit that authority.
“The FTC’s ability to protect consumers and promote competition in the broadband industry isn’t something new and far-fetched,” Acting FTC Chairwoman Maureen Ohlhausen said Tuesday at an event hosted by R Street Institute and Lincoln Network. “We have a long-established role in preserving the values that consumers care about online, including the consumer protection and competition issues that concern net neutrality advocates.”
The FTC brought anti-competition cases against internet providers like AT&T before net neutrality regulations shifted enforcement power to the FCC, and Ohlhausen believes people will benefit if enforcement power is restored to the FTC. As the leading consumer protection agency, FTC would prevent internet service providers from engaging in any deceptive or unfair practices and ensure they adhere to privacy and data security rules, she said.
Ohlhausen also highlighted the benefits of the FTC’s case-by-case approach to policing ISPs, noting that one-size-fits-all internet regulation may sometimes limit consumer freedom.
“In the marketplace, companies seek to deliver what consumers want,” she said, “but under prescriptive regulation, companies seek to deliver what regulators want.”
She said FTC’s enforcement authority and internet providers’ transparency requirements will promote net neutrality where consumers want it but also creates the freedom for positive yet “arguably non-neutral practices” like throttling speeds for telehealth services.
Pai joined Ohlhausen at the event to defend his controversial decision to deregulate the internet, arguing the plan will increase online competition and innovation while spurring investment in broadband infrastructure.
While internet providers like Verizon and Comcast welcomed Pai’s proposal, not everyone has been as receptive. Hundreds of tech companies including Twitter, Airbnb and Reddit signed a letter to Ajit Pai on Monday, writing, "without these rules, internet service providers will be able to favor certain websites and e-businesses...by putting the ones that can pay in fast lanes and slowing down or even blocking others."
Other opponents worry repealing the rules will potentially open the door for government and corporate censorship, but Pai called the concerns “utterly absurd.”
“We had a free and open internet for two decades before 2015, and we will have a free and open internet going forward,” he said.
Commissioners will vote on the proposal at their Dec. 14 meeting. With Republicans controlling three of the five seats at the commission, the measure is widely expected to pass.