The landscape seems fairly unchanged since the previous FCC enshrined the regulations: Regular folks want it, Democrats want it, Republicans claim it’s a solution without a problem and want to kill it and allow “tolls” for faster service.
Let’s take a look back over what’s happened in the past few months, shall we?
In January, while the meager crowds were still meandering through Washington, DC, following the inauguration, an executive order was signed naming Ajit Pai the new commissioner of the FCC, replacing Tom Wheeler. Wheeler had been appointed by the Obama administration and took his exit with dignity, but net neutrality experts immediately became nervous, calling his departure a “death knell” for the regulations that protect users from receiving inferior service on some websites being “throttled” unless fines are paid.
For a simple explanation of what this all means, here’s Recode: “Without network neutrality, smaller or new online businesses that can’t afford to play for a faster service tier—especially if websites that are already extremely profitable, like Facebook, get to set the price—would load slower, likely causing users to navigate away to a faster-loading site. Yet the large, incumbent websites that would be able to afford to pay internet providers for faster speeds supported network neutrality, too,” adding that Netflix, Facebook, Google and Kickstarter all were loud and adamant supporters of the regulations that came into effect in 2015.
Sure enough, by April, Pai released the new FCC’s outline for net neutrality regulations. To the surprise of no one paying even a little attention to how Washington is running these days, the FCC is looking to pretty much blink net neutrality regulations out of existence as if they were never approved and backed by courts (which they were. A few times. But when have the courts mattered this administration?).
Standing at a podium at the Newseum in Washington – a museum dedicated to the First Amendment, which is emblazoned on its marble façade on Pennsylvania Avenue—Pai said net neutrality protections were “all about politics” and unnecessary, calling them heavy-handed regulations” that are harmful to ISP and allegedly resulted in a 5.6% decrease in expenditure (or $3.6 billion) in broadband infrastructure improvements in the two years since they became the law of the land.
“We are proposing to return the classification of broadband service from a Title II telecommunications service to a Title I information service—that is, light-touch regulations drawn from the Clinton Administration,” Pai said, according to a copy of his statement published on the FCC’s website. “As I mentioned earlier, this Title I classification was expressly upheld by the Supreme Court in 2005 and it’s more consistent with the facts and the law.”
It’s worth noting Pai made this declaration just weeks after Congress overturned late-Obama Administration regulations that prohibited the selling of browser history records, but it’s still illegal to monitor individual activities or to monitor and sell the search histories of members of Congress.
Once the public comment period opened, in mid-May, net neutrality warrior John Oliver took to his show with a 20-minute argument against what the FCC is trying to do, introducing www.gofccyourself.com, a direct link to the FCC’s public comment page, encouraging viewers to speak out in support of net neutrality. The next morning, the FCC claimed it was the victim of a DoSS attack. The same FCC later said it would not lift a cold, dead finger to do anything about comments posted on its website from fake accounts created with the names of deceased persons.
The public comment period is open for another few weeks and the battle for net neutrality remains a hot topic.
So where do we stand?A recent survey of US voters found a whopping 60% support net neutrality regulations as they currently stand, governing internet service as a utility like water, gas or electricity. A total of 34% of those polled said they strongly supported the rules and an additional 26% said they somewhat support the rules, compared to 17% showing some level of opposition to the rules. Almost a quarter of those asked, 23%, said they had no opinion or weren’t sure how they felt.
This was a poll of 2,051 registered voters and was made up of people who identified as both Republican (59% support) and Democrat (61% support).
It’s also worth noting, as Broadcasting Cable does, that “ISPs have said they do not oppose enforceable prohibitions on blocking and throttling, though paid prioritization is a fuzzier area.” Their concern is what they feel are some outdated regulations that “discourage investment and innovation.”
There’s a Twitter day of action scheduled for July 12 in support of the current regulations and in opposition to the proposed changes.
Others participating in the day of action are Amazon, Netflix, Vimeo, Etsy, Kickstarter, Reddit, Twitter, Medium, Soundcloud and others.
Join the Day of Action for Net Neutrality on July 12th https://t.co/C5X6nFiLmj
— jamesneal (@jamesneal) June 6, 2017
“This protest is gaining so much momentum because no one wants their cable company to charge them extra fees or have the power to control what they can see and do on the internet,” said Evan Greer with Fight for the Future, an advocacy group, outspoken supporter of net neutrality and the event’s organizer. “Congress and the FCC need to listen to the public, not just lobbyists. The goal of this day of action is to make them listen.”
Additionally, words are flying fast and furious around DC.
Democratic Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has entered for public comment and published on her website a scathing letter in support of net neutrality.
Pai says he’s a supporter of the open internet but his actions don’t match that, she says. “It is my understanding that you are concerned that Title II might chill investment in broadband deployment. We share the goal that every American should have choices for broadband internet access. But when two-thirds of Americans have at most one ‘choice’ of high-speed broadband provider at their home, I’m disappointed that the FCC is instead working to undo net neutrality. The record shows that the Title II legal framework for net neutrality promoted a ‘virtuous circle’—where broadband providers continued to invest in order to deliver faster speeds to customers and innovators on the edge continued to come up with apps and services that encouraged people buy those faster connections.”
She points to testimony from AT&T’s CEO in December 2015 which stated the company would be expanding, not retracting or restricting, its broadband service. At the same time, Charter’s CEO told investors that Title II classifications and protections under net neutrality “didn’t really hurt us.”
“Even NTCA—the Rural Broadband Association, which represents more than 800 independent, community-based telecommunications companies, remains in favor of Title II rules,” she says. Further, she was “dismayed to learn you are likely to disregard the millions of public comments filed in the record…You have made confusing statements that you will both give less weight to comments that are not of sufficient quality and that you will err on the side of including suspicious comments in the agency’s deliberation, even when dozens among a particular batch of comments have sworn that their name and address were used fraudulently.” She asks for a review of these inaccurate statements.
Finally, she calls on Pai and the commission to “hear directly from the public in official hearings outside of Washington, DC,” if they’re really so concerned about fraudulent comments being submitted. With the number of entrepreneurs and small business owners and operators in San Francisco, Pelosi says it would be her pleasure to host Pai and his colleagues at a public hearing in that city at his convenience.
“The internet has become our public square, our newspaper, our megaphone,” says Corynne McSherry, legal direct of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, another outspoken net neutrality supporter. The vast majority of Americans – seven in 10—use at least one social media networking service, with Facebook tallying 1.79 billion monthly users in addition to the 310 million active Twitter users (and their 500 million daily messages), 600 million on Instagram and 100 million daily Snapchat users, to say nothing of Wikipedia, the Internet Archive, news outlet and other resources available online.
“The internet was built on the simple but powerful idea that while you may need to pay a service provider for internet access, that provider doesn’t get to shape what you access—or who has access to you,” McSherry writes, calling on supporters to use the power of the internet to protect its openness.
The public comment period is open through August 17. This is gonna be fun.