Fighting Over Net Neutrality (Again)

Illustration- detail of U.S. Constitution, '404 not found' superimposed.

Republicans have decided that they’re going to win the next round of elections by thoughtfully designing a better healthcare system for all citizens, disengaging from unnecessary military conflicts, ending racism, and fighting climate change.

Oh, right— in some other parallel dimension; not this one. Of course their strategy for hanging on to power is to control and distort information, and to keep the public misinformed. It’s what they’ve been doing for a long time now, and what’s been working for them.

And so we have FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s proposal to undo net neutrality protections. The chairman (a former Verizon lawyer) is selling the idea that the telecoms will be great guys, won’t favor their own programming, slow the content of competitors, filter news and information to their own advantage, or use their monopolies to separate consumers from more of their money. Those friendly telecoms will voluntarily keep the internet open, happy, and sun-shiny without Title II protections, according to Chairman Pai.

But of course that’s not the way it would actually work; not in this universe. A rollback of net neutrality would simply be more sabotage to the democratic process, added on top of gerrymandering, voter suppression, corporate financing of campaigns, media consolidation, corruption of academic programs, etc., etc.

Since net neutrality is a complex issue, I’ve assembled a small reading list to cover it in finer detail, and maybe help you to catch up if this issue is new to you. I’ll start the list off with a little bit of fun— a video of John Oliver’s ‘Last Week Tonight’ that for anyone who hasn’t seen it, does a fabulous job of encapsulating the basics. If you have seen it, then maybe watch it again to ease yourself into the proper frame of mind for diving deeper into the swamp.

One very small note of optimism I’d like to point out that is often missed, is that the FCC can’t just change its rules on a whim. It took a long fight for the FCC under former Chairman Tom Wheeler to win against Verizon and the other telecom giants in court, and put into effect the rules we have now. Having won that battle and getting the courts to agree that Title II protections are lawful and appropriate, it would take an uphill battle for Ajit Pai’s FCC to prove that the previous findings need to be reversed. So the new Trump FCC can’t just easily flip a switch and kill net neutrality rules on its own.

The bad news is that people = policy. With Ajit Pai in charge, the FCC can allow net neutrality to be undermined in various ways without changes in rules or laws. And the really bad news is that the telecom industry’s Republican allies in congress, plus a few Democrats, will try to take away the courts’ ability to restrict the FCC’s behavior by revising the Telecommunications Act and minimizing the FCC’s authority. Republican standard operating procedure is to first cry for new legislation to “save freedom,”  “end uncertainty,” and “reduce burdensome regulation.” (Note the nausea-inducing title of Chairman Pai’s proposal— “Restoring Internet Freedom.”)  Then, congress will go about writing legislation to do the exact opposite of what they promised. There are bills in the works– so far Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) has proposed S.993 and others are reported to be on the way.

This means that after signing petitions and sending in comments to the FCC, we’ll need to focus on congress, since that’s where the real battle will take place. Given that the Trump wrecking ball has been swinging wildly around Washington D.C. with no one at the controls, expect that the telecoms will act on the assumption that congress is as Republican as it’s ever going to be, and to push for new legislation ASAP.

–Chris Johnson


Public Knowledge
Net Neutrality

Electronic Frontier Foundation
The FCC Pretends to Support Net Neutrality and Privacy While Moving to Gut Both

Don’t Get Fooled: The Plan Is To Kill Net Neutrality While Pretending It’s Being Protected

Susan Crawford
The FCC Is Leading Us Toward Catastrophe

Common Cause
Net Neutrality


Petition Opposing Chairman Pai’s Proposal

DearFCC: The Best Way to Submit Comments to the FCC about Net Neutrality (Electronic Frontier Foundation)