The FCC has decided to axe important protections for your online life. Whether you’re a small online business, an activist, a voracious binge-watcher, or an applications designer, this news should send chills down your spine. Two years ago, the FCC reclassified broadband as a so-called Title II telecommunications service under the 1934 Communications Act. That reclassification placed broadband providers under the same strict regulations that govern telephone networks. The FCC website described it simply:
“The FCC’s Open Internet rules protect and maintain open, uninhibited access to legal online content without broadband Internet access providers [ISPs] being allowed to block, impair, or establish fast/slow lanes to lawful content.”
The new rules were put into effect in part because in 2014 Verizon was found to have slowed down Netflix traffic intentionally. They own several video-on-demand and pay-per-view channels that were in competition. Or perhaps it was the famous standoff between CBS and Time Warner Cable in 2013, where CBS blocked Time Warner Cable customers from viewing CBS programming made available free online.
With the media consolidation of the last decade, our online lives are in the hands of just a few corporations who are looking out for their shareholders. And through their lobbyists they’re about to get just what they want. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (formerly a Verizon lawyer) is pushing through his ‘Restoring Internet Freedom” rule, which is most decidedly not about freedom. It is a give-away to the cable companies. It will allow them to pick and chose which information goes through their pipes. It will allow them to creating fast and slow lanes, to extort fees from content providers just to get their information into a fast lane, and it will allow them total control over what information gets to you. No one likes the spinning wheel of death. And we like infringement on our rights to free expression, free press, and a level playing field even less.
Once the rule is voted on by the FCC in late August, it will head to the Senate. Already 9 Senators have drafted a bill called the (wait for it) ‘Restoring Internet Freedom Act’. One of those Senators is our very own Senator Thom Tillis. Senator Burr has not weighed in on the issue – yet. Once it gets through the Senate (we hope not) it will go to the House. Rep. McHenry voiced his opposition to the Net Neutrality rule in 2015, saying on his website:
“On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission approved what I believe to be a misguided and potentially destructive plan to regulate the Internet. I have grave concerns about tasking the federal government that gave us Healthcare.gov with overseeing the Internet. Coupled with the secretive manner in which this plan was introduced, completely free of Congressional oversight, it is clear to me this is a significant mistake by the FCC and one which Congress must examine and revisit.”
Perhaps we can inform and persuade him this time around. Rep. Meadows has not made any statements one way or another. While this may be made out to be a party line issue, it is important to note that recent polling has shown that Net Neutrality has broad approval from all Americans. That’s 76% (81% Dem – 73% Rep) of the people want to leave the rules in place.
The FCC must by law take public comments. The current comment period ends July 17th. After that, a second commenting round will be open until August 16th, during which the public is expected to reply to comments filed during the first round of filings. Take a minute and make a comment. There are some great comments on their page, but also hundreds of thousands of fake anti-net neutrality comments made by bots, identical wording, and many of them use stolen names and addresses. Many people whose names were used asked that the FCC remove the fraudulent comments. They were rebuffed.
Time is running out to stop this assault on our online freedom. It’s easy to become hypnotized by the drama going on in and around the White House. But there are a lot of other political shenanigans happening that will effect us all for a long time. Net Neutrality is a big one.