If you believe internet service providers (ISPs) should not be able to block or slow your access to YouTube videos of fidget spinners, Netflix streaming of “Friends” or Herald-Leader editorials, you support net neutrality.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai claims he does too, but his plan to reverse the open internet rules the FCC just enacted in 2015 says otherwise.
While Pai’s plan attempts to protect both the American economy and free speech, the rules he’s trying to revoke do a better job of safeguarding both.
Net neutrality, or open internet, is the principle that ISPs should enable access to all content, regardless of the source. The FCC simply describes it as “your ability to go where you want when you want online.” Imagine the internet as a highway: Under net neutrality, the same speed limit applies to everyone, each driver can carry any legal cargo in the trunk to any destination of his or her choosing.
The government preserved net neutrality using a “light-touch” approach of limited regulation for more than a decade, but in 2015, the FCC decided a little more regulation was necessary to maintain openness. Pai, then a commissioner, voted no.
Now Pai, designated chairman by President Donald Trump in January, wants to roll back those regulations, which are broken into three rules:
▪ No blocking access to any lawful content online. Without this rule, an ISP like Time Warner or Comcast could pick and choose what online content their customers can view. This clearly threatens free speech.
▪ No throttling, which is slowing some internet traffic while allowing other content to be delivered more quickly.
▪ No paid prioritization, which is when ISPs give “fast lanes” of internet traffic in exchange for consideration, like increased payment from content-creating companies.
Pai said these rules were enacted to solve hypothetical problems, but they were a reaction to the FCC’s drift toward allowing paid prioritization.
In May 2014, the FCC voted to propose a plan that would allow ISPs to charge for priority treatment, creating a two-tier system of internet access. Less than a year later, the newly enacted open internet rules halted those plans.
The FCC has five seats, three of which can be from the same political party. Two Republicans and one Democrat remain from the Obama administration. Trump has yet to appoint the remaining two members.
Last month the FCC voted 2-1 to move forward with Pai’s proposal.
The vote split down party lines, but this isn’t a partisan issue. The internet is for all individuals, ideas, businesses and parties.
Pai contends government regulation is the enemy of free speech. But some regulations, including these open internet rules, can and do protect free speech.
The economic implications of net neutrality regulations — or lack thereof — are more difficult to untangle. Pai said that the rules have harmed the economy, and that repealing them will not only reverse the harm but also help. But if there were no regulation, as Pai suggests, it’s not clear how markets or companies would respond.
The proposal is now open to public comment before July 17 at fcc.gov/ecfs/search-proceedings. Another way to get involved is to sign up to participate in the Day of Action on July 12. Though the details of the day are not yet set, more than 70 organizations, including Amazon and the ACLU, have signed up to show their support for net neutrality.