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Telecom Policy Tilts in Favor of Industry Under Trump's FCC

Trumpism is slowly taking hold on your phone and computer, as the Federal Communications Commission starts rolling back measures that upset the phone and cable industries.

Consumer advocates complain that hard-fought protections on privacy and competition are at risk, though the new regime says consumers win if businesses have incentives to invest.

The changes are small and easily overlooked. But they’re the first shots in what could turn into a full-fledged war over Obama-era “net neutrality” rules, which were designed to keep phone and cable giants from favoring their own internet services and apps.

“Death by a thousand cuts is a constantly overused cliche, but that’s sort of what they’re aiming for right now,” said Matt Wood, the policy director of consumer group Free Press, referring to the Republicans now in power at the FCC.

Death to Net Neutrality

It’s no secret President Donald Trump’s hand-picked FCC chief, Ajit Pai, wants to cut regulations that he believes are holding back faster, cheaper internet.

Pai takes special aim at net neutrality rules, which regulate broadband as a utility and bar providers from playing favorites by offering speedier access to, say, their own streaming-video services. Pai considers these rules a mistake that slows investment in internet infrastructure. His goal is to expand internet access, especially in rural areas where choices are limited.

But an aggressive overhaul of net neutrality could be politically and legally difficult. For a telecom policy, net neutrality is popular with consumers, drawing attention from comedian John Oliver and spurring people to flood the FCC with roughly 4 million comments (not all in support, of course). A federal appeals court upheld the rules in June.

This may explain why the FCC has so far opted for a piecemeal attack — an approach that may continue for a while.

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