The chair of the FCC doesn’t care what you want
The howls of protest against the vote of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) plan to end net neutrality reached a crescendo in advance of the vote on December 14. Most people in the country think ending net neutrality is a really bad idea. A survey by the University of Maryland on December 11, found that 82.9% of voters opposed ending the current practice, and that included 75.4% of Republicans, 88.5% of Democrats and 85.9% of Independents.
The response from Ajit Pai, the chair of the Republican-controlled committee, was to post a mocking video (www.youtube.com/watch?v=U6Y8xrh7XyI) telling Internet users not to worry, they’ll still able to do the things they do now, such as posting pictures of cute puppies. It’s as if he’s saying to Internet users, “The things you do on the Internet are so trivial, why shouldn’t I diminish your access to it?”
It’s probably true that people will be able to post photos on Facebook, but it’s not absolutely certain. The end of net neutrality means that Internet service providers such as Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) and Frontier can keep people from accessing their Facebook accounts should those companies chose to do so, or they could charge more to reach those accounts, or they could put Facebook content in a slow lane, and give their own content an advantage by delivering it more quickly.
Pai says not to worry, the big ISPs have said they are not going to favor some content or providers over others. Right—and if Exxon said they promised not to pollute, would we get rid of our environmental protection laws?
Even Pai has admitted that giving large corporations the gift of having the authority to make money via the Internet any way they like is not without risks. But beyond that, it is taking a public asset and handing it over to private corporations, as our government so often likes to do.
The first workable model of the Internet was called ARPANET which stood for the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network; it was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense in the 1960s. So it was created with tax dollars, and now the FCC is handing a few corporations the ability to squeeze as much money as possible out of people for using what was initially a public asset.
This won’t happen without a fight. New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on December 14 announced a lawsuit against the FCC. He said, “The FCC’s vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open Internet. The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving Internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers. Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.” Attorneys general from other states have said they will join the lawsuit.
Schneiderman is also investigating the 22 million or so public comments on the net neutrality question. His office has discovered that the names of hundreds of thousands of people were used without their consent to weigh in with comments on the issue on both sides of the debate. To this point, the FCC has refused to help in an investigation of the matter. But recently, Schneiderman said the FCC Inspector General’s office has indicated that it may help.
Another way this decision by the FCC could be reduced is through Congressional action. Before the vote, Senate Democrats have called loudly for the vote to be delayed so this issue could be further examined. But Pai—who was once a lawyer for Verizon, one of the companies that could benefit mightily from the change of rules—refused to listen.
In the wake of the vote, some Republicans are begging to take up the cause. Republican Sen. John Thune said, “Congressional action is the only way to solve the endless back-and-forth on net neutrality rules that we’ve seen over the past several years. If my colleagues on the other side of the aisle and those who claim to support net neutrality rules want to enshrine protections for consumers with the backing of the law, I call on you today to join me in discussing legislation that would do just that.”
It’s not clear that congressional action will be forthcoming; after all a, group of about 100 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Pai backing his move. But along with the effort to kill Obamacare and pass a tax that is has support from only about 30% of the public, this move to end net neutrality is another reason that more voters than usual should—and probably will —turn out to the polls in the midterm election in 2018.