FCC chairman will address the future of net neutrality on Wednesday

So it begins: FCC Chairman Ajit Pai appears to be showing his cards regarding his promised rollback of net neutrality rules. He is slated to speak on “The Future of Internet Regulation” on Wednesday, Reuters reported today.

TechCrunch confirmed with the FCC that a talk is taking place, and sponsor FreedomWorks confirmed the topic. Pai previously said at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona that he considers the FCC’s approach to regulating the internet heavy-handed and old-fashioned.

But unlike the Broadband Privacy Rule, which could be repealed under the Congressional Review Act, and the zero-rating inquiries, which were merely advisory to begin with, the 2015 Open Internet Order is a major standing piece of regulation, one that can’t be waved away. This talk could be the first time the chairman addresses specifically how he plans to dismantle net neutrality and the other rules announced two years ago.

Given the structure of the Order and the hints Pai has given, one possible strategy is that he will question former Chairman Tom Wheeler’s justification for using the stronger Title II authority, rather than the Title I under which broadband services have generally been classed, as a basis for net neutrality.

By challenging that authority as illegitimate, Pai can characterize his move to remove the rules as slapping the wrist of an overreaching agency, even though the effects of that slap will be far-reaching. If he declines to exert Title II authority or has it officially stripped in this case, the rules will be effectively moot; imagine having laws but no police. New rules, and perhaps good ones, could be put in their place, but any such proposal will take months at the least, during which time net neutrality rules will simply not be enforced.

This hypothetical approach will still likely require a great deal more time and care than that required to rescind the Privacy Rule, which hadn’t yet taken effect and fell under the effective date range of the CRA.

The event is sponsored by FreedomWorks, a right-leaning libertarian organization that has called for the abolition of Obamacare — and apparently also copyright, since I just noticed they used one of our illustrations without permission. (It’s probably just a mistake; I’ve contacted them about it.)

The Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, which has applauded all the FCC’s recent actions, including the repeal of the Broadband Privacy Rule, is also a sponsor. I contacted both for comment and will update this post if I hear back.