In just one week, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) could bring an end to net neutrality with one vote, completely infringing upon our First Amendment rights and altering the way we as consumers access the internet.
Net neutrality, a policy strengthened under the Obama administration, classifies high speed internet as a public utility and ensures internet service providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon treat all internet data equally. With net neutrality, companies cannot discriminate against customers or websites.
Now, Republican members of the presidentially appointed FCC like Chairman Ajit Pai — a former attorney for Verizon — want to allow massive companies to take unprecedented control over the internet world and reshape how people can use the web. If the FCC votes in favor of ending net neutrality next week, internet providers could restrict access to any publications they dislike. They could also charge additional fees to visit popular pages such as Netflix, Amazon and Google, allowing for huge profit surges at the financial burden of everyone else.
The Democrat minority of the FCC is openly condemning the commission’s moves to end net neutrality. Commission member Jessica Rosenworcel published her concerns in newspapers across the country.
“There is something not right about a few unelected FCC officials making such vast determinations about the future of the internet,” Rosenworcel said in an editorial in the LA Times.
Rosenworcel is right. The FCC is supposed to make sure film, television and radio content is safe and appropriate for the public and follows national guidelines. It is not supposed to strip away access to high-speed internet, an essential resource in modern life.
Not only is the commission trying to alter how we access the internet — it intends to do so by undercutting all necessary democratic processes.
In the past two months since Pai reproposed ending net neutrality, the FCC has been intensely scrutinized. Congress members, consumer watch groups and engaged members of the public voiced their concerns, with a record high of over 22 million messages sent to the commission in the past eight weeks exclusively regarding the possible end to net neutrality.
As the FCC opened its website for public comments on net neutrality, the department received thousands of messages in support of ending net neutrality that many, including members of the FCC, believe to be generated by bots using eerily identical phrases to sway the argument in favor of ending net neutrality.
About 440,000 identical anti-net neutrality comments read, “The unprecedented regulatory power the Obama administration imposed on the Internet is smothering innovation, damaging the American economy and obstructing job creation.”
It is estimated that there are at least 1 million false comments in total. These comments drew enough concern that on Dec. 4 the attorney general of New York and 28 U.S. senators called for a halt to the FCC vote. But Pai refused and is insisting the commission vote on ending net neutrality next week.
In 2014, when the government originally considered ending net neutrality the Democrat-led FCC listened to the outpour of criticism from the public and opted to strengthen protection of net neutrality.
This time, the moves against public discourse make it clear that Pai and other FCC members are well aware that ending net neutrality is not for the public benefit, but for the benefit of major corporations and Washington D.C. lobbyists.
We, as a public, must respond swiftly and save net neutrality by overwhelming the FCC with the public opinions of the people who will actually be impacted by its Dec. 14 vote.