AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon celebrated a great victory today over the American people: with thousands of dollars in bribes in hand, three of the five Federal Communications Commission (FCC) commissioners voted to dismantle regulations set in place in 2015 to safeguard a free and open internet. Without these regulations in place, your internet service provider (ISP) can control your access to the internet with impunity. This may involve speeding up some sites while slowing others or altogether blocking access to sites and services that 1) either don’t pay an access fee to the ISP or 2) compete with one of their own services. Sites may even eventually be bundled and sold in a manner similar to cable channels today. Want access to something other than perhaps Google and Facebook? Well, it’ll cost ya.
The three FCC commissioners that voted against net neutrality regulations, despite overwhelming support from the U.S. public, include Ajit Pai (Chairman), Michael O’Rielly, and Brendan Carr, all republicans. The two democrats on the commission, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel both voted against repealing the net neutrality protections. During his 11 month tenure as chairman, Pai has managed to screw over the American public in a variety of ways, including removing media ownership limits (allowing one company to own all the media — TV, newspapers, radio — within a single city or jurisdiction), raised the limits on how much broadband providers can charge business customers, and reduced funding to the low-income broadband program. What a stand-up guy.
So what happens now? The FCC’s ruling will most likely be challenged in court by the advocacy group Free Press, and others fighting for a free and open internet. In the long-run, however, there is a desperate need to make net neutrality law — something only our representatives in Congress can accomplish. Otherwise, even if net neutrality is somehow able to win this round, it will continue to be under threat every few years. And for those of us who appreciate all that’s at stake here, that’s pretty darn stressful.