Net Neutrality Is On the Chopping Block

Net Neutrality Is On the Chopping Block

If Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission gets his way, some of your favorite websites may be slowed to a crawl or even blocked entirely by your internet provider.

FCC Chair Would Permit "Fast" and "Slow" Lanes for Online Content

Don’t you hate it when your favorite website takes forever to load, when the online video you tried to watch on Facebook or Twitter locks up and then starts over?

Well watch out, there’s a good chance it’s going to get worse – much worse. If Ajit Pai, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission gets his way, some of your favorite websites may be slowed to a crawl or even blocked entirely by your internet provider.

Pai announced plans this morning to roll back “net neutrality” protections adopted by the commission during the Obama administration. It’s likely – though not certain – that those protections will be history before year’s end and your internet provider will have a free hand to turbo-charge the delivery of some online content while slowing down or cutting off things it doesn’t like or doesn’t want you to see.

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“The reckless wrecking ball strikes again,” said former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now a special adviser to Common Cause. Pai’s “scorched-earth plan for net neutrality…  will be a disaster for consumers and yet another handout for big business.”

Copps said Pai’s plan “is handing over the internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see the rest of us as products to be delivered to advertisers, not as citizens needing communications that serve democracy’s needs. By empowering internet service providers to create fast lanes for the few and squelch alternative points of view, the Trump FCC fecklessly casts aside years of popular consensus that the public needs net neutrality. The tens of thousands of Americans I have talked with, both Republicans and Democrats, fully understand this need.”

Pai’s plan would permit Comcast, Verizon and other internet providers to levy extra fees on companies and individuals seeking to have their web content transmitted at high speed. For example, Comcast, which owns NBC-Universal, could stop transmitting or slow delivery of web content from competitors like CNN, Fox, and The New York Times unless those competitors agree to pay a premium for quicker delivery. It could also impose tolls on other popular sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

The fight to secure net neutrality, won in 2015, spanned years. It was won only after millions of Americans, including tens of thousands of Common Cause members and supporters, emailed, wrote letters, called, and generally pestered the FCC and members of Congress to ensure that the internet remains an open, neutral forum for the transmission of news and information.

Former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, who shepherded the current neutrality provisions through the commission in 2015, assailed Pai’s proposal.

“The job of the FCC is to represent the consumer,” Wheeler told The Washington Post. “If you like your cable company, you’ll love what this does for the internet, because it gives Internet service providers the same kind of control over content and price as cable operators have today.”

Pai’s bid to end neutrality has been expected since the spring and neutrality advocates have planned a campaign to counter it. But Pai commands a 3-2 majority on the FCC, so it may take legal action or congressional intervention – unlikely in the Republican-controlled Congress – to preserve the open internet protections.

In the past 20 years or so, the internet has gone from being a curiosity to an integral part of our lives and of the world’s economy. It’s also a critical part of our democracy, an electronic public square that has quickly become a new battleground for our political debates.

Net neutrality keeps that battleground open to every potential combatant. If it goes away, an internet provider with a political agenda will have the freedom to see that internet users receive news, views, and information the provider likes faster – possibly much faster – than those it doesn’t.