A future without net neutrality is here. Well, almost.
The Federal Communications Commission will take away the rights of internet users on Monday. Officially, the repeal of the 2015 net neutrality protections ― a repeal that FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump pick, had pushed for ― will take effect.
That means that internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon will be able to block, throttle and otherwise interfere with online content without any real legal consequences.
Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, bucked the law, ignored public opinion and twisted the facts to make his ill-advised case for handing control of the internet to the anti-competitive cabal of giant phone and cable companies that control broadband access in the United States. In a moment of Orwellian arrogance, Pai said he did it to “restore internet freedom.”
The reality is quite the opposite: Pai is attempting to usher in an online regime that would resemble the internet in China. In that country, a powerful alliance between the central government and national telecom companies has created a digital dystopia, where websites and online services that fall out of favor load so slowly as to render them unusable. Others appear in a flash, thanks to cozy ties to the powers that be.
Pai is attempting to usher in an online regime that would resemble the internet in China.
The 2015 rules prevented this kind of discrimination in the U.S. They created the legal foundation for real net neutrality safeguards, giving internet users the freedom to choose what they do, where they go and whom they connect with online.
The FCC’s approval of those rules was the result of a decadelong fight on behalf of the public — and against the forces of special interests that spent hundreds of millions of dollars on lawyers, public relations firms, lobbyists and campaign contributions in their quest to take over the internet.
The millions of people who won net neutrality three years ago aren’t going away now. Since Pai’s FCC voted to strip internet users of those protections, advocates of every political stripe have been organizing to overturn that decision and restore the safeguards we expect every time we go online.
Since late 2017, Free Press, my organization, has joined with other advocacy groups and online companies in calling on Congress to pass a resolution of disapproval that would reinstate the 2015 net neutrality rules. We’ve already won a stunning victory in the Senate, which in May voted 52–47 in favor of the resolution. The measure has since moved to the House, where it’s already garnered support from more than 175 Democrats.
Republicans should support the resolution too — that is, if they care at all about their constituents’ wishes. Poll after poll after poll after poll shows large majorities of Republican voters in opposition to the FCC’s repeal. Any Republican seeking re-election in the fall can’t run from this polling data or from the people back home who demand real net neutrality.
Poll after poll after poll after poll shows large majorities of Republican voters in opposition to the FCC’s repeal.
Momentum is on the side of internet freedom. Since 2017, more than 400,000 volunteers have joined the grassroots “Team Internet” campaign to organize in their communities. As part of this effort, more than 16.5 million pro-net neutrality emails have been sent to Congress. These were supported by 1.6 million phone calls urging lawmakers to support the resolution and reverse the FCC’s decision. There have also been 1,300 local events, including rallies outside the district offices of members of Congress.
Meanwhile, more than 30 states are weighing legislation to restore the net neutrality rules for their residents. Governors in Hawaii, Montana, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont have signed executive orders prohibiting their state governments from doing business with internet providers that violate net neutrality.
The mayors of 120 cities, representing more than 26 million people, have signed a similar pledge, threatening to pull billions of dollars in contracts from phone and cable companies that break the 2015 rules.
The FCC will also have to defend its new rules in court. Free Press and our allies are challenging the agency’s reversal on the proper definition of broadband, its flawed justifications for tossing out the rules and the many procedural fouls that plagued the FCC action last year. The lawsuit has been assigned to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, with oral arguments expected to occur by the end of the year. Pai and his colleagues will have to defend their decision before judges likely to be skeptical of the FCC’s rationale for destroying open-internet protections and putting nothing else in their place. We’re also confident that the judges will rule against Pai’s rollback and the way he conducted the proceedings.
You can be sure that Pai and his cronies in the phone and cable lobby will declare victory on Monday, but the expiration of the 2015 rules will be only a temporary hiccup. The fight is far from over in Congress, in the courts and across the country.
That’s because people everywhere understand what’s at stake. Without net neutrality, large phone and cable companies will control the future of communications, deciding who gets a voice and who doesn’t. No one thinks that letting Comcast manage our clicks is a good idea. Pai’s attempts to strangle the free internet exemplify a Washington where corporations dictate policy, and the people aren’t going to take that sitting down. Not today and not ever.
Editor’s note: Verizon owns HuffPost’s parent company.
Timothy Karr is the senior director of strategy and communications for Free Press.