Now that President Donald Trump and the Republican party have gutted internet privacy protections, their next order of business is to fast-track repeal of groundbreaking net neutrality rules that proponents say ensure "access to social, political, and economic empowerment for all."
"It's clear Pai thinks his real constituents are Comcast and Verizon, not the American people."
—Craig Aaron, Free Press
That's according to sources who were briefed on a meeting this week between Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair Ajit Pai and major telecommunications trade groups and spoke to news outlets about what they heard.
They said Pai "is moving quickly to replace the Obama administration's landmark net neutrality rules and wants internet service providers to voluntarily agree to maintain an open internet," Reuters reported.
The wire service continued:
The officials briefed on the meeting said Pai suggested companies commit in writing to open internet principles and including them in their terms of service, which would make them binding.
It is unclear if regulators could legally compel internet providers to adopt open internet principles without existing net neutrality rules.
As part of that move, the Federal Trade Commission would assume oversight of ensuring compliance.
Three sources said Pai plans to unveil his proposal to overturn the rules as early as late April and it could face an initial vote in May or June.
This attack is hardly unexpected. "Pai has been an outspoken foe of net neutrality," John Nichols wrote last month at The Nation, describing the doctrine as "the First Amendment of the internet that guarantees the free flow of information without censorship or corporate favoritism. With Trump's backing, and that of a Congress whose Republican leaders never say no to telecom giants, Pai will have an FCC majority and plenty of leeway to go after net neutrality. Its 'days are numbered,' he says."
Responding to this week's reports, Free Press president and CEO Craig Aaron accused Pai of "conspiring with cable and phone lobbyists to take away fundamental safeguards that keep the internet open and free."
"The idea of replacing landmark net neutrality rules with voluntary conditions is an outrage and an insult to the millions who fought for them," Aaron said. "It's clear Pai thinks his real constituents are Comcast and Verizon, not the American people."
Rolling back net neutrality rules would be one more indication that the Trump administration is kowtowing to corporate interests, Aaron continued, charging Pai with "carrying out Donald Trump and [chief strategist] Steve Bannon's orders to destroy public protections and unleash corporations to do whatever they want without consequences."
"Millions of people will need to speak out to rescue the internet from Trump and Pai's reactionary agenda," he said. "They must be stopped.”
Indeed, any attempt to roll back net neutrality protections, enshrined by the FCC in 2015, will be met by an ardent grassroots resistance movement—one that has been emboldened by last month's fight over internet privacy, which some described as a "teaser for an even bigger battle to come."
Gigi Sohn, a counselor to former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler who had a hand in crafting the privacy rules, told The Hill this week that the fight over internet privacy was "priming the pump of an enormous wave of grassroots activity on net neutrality. We're not going to start on square one, we're going to start on square 10."
The Hill further noted:
A recent YouGov/Huffington Post online poll, taken before Trump signed the privacy bill, found that 71 percent of adults supported allowing the FCC's net neutrality rules to go into effect. Seventy-two percent of both Republicans and Democrats supported the rules.
And net neutrality has support on Capitol Hill, as well. Just this week, 32 Democratic lawmakers sent a letter (pdf) to Pai urging him to "abide by the law and retain net neutrality rules grounded in Title II of the Communications Act."
"Under Title II," they wrote, "the internet has remained open for competition, innovation, and creativity... More importantly, strong net neutrality rules have worked to keep the internet free from discrimination against users, regardless of their race or economic status. You simply cannot claim to support the open internet and net neutrality rules while abandoning and attacking the legal framework that makes those rules possible."
Sandra Fulton, government relations manager for the Free Press Action Fund, declared: "The signers of this letter know that the net neutrality debate isn't just an abstract battle between internet and cable companies, played out for the benefit of beltway politicians. These rules are essential protection for communities of color, political dissidents, independent creators, and people of all beliefs. People need a guarantee of their freedom to speak up without fear of blocking and discrimination by their internet service provider."
Still, while "none of the doomsday scenarios predicted by Chairman Pai and his friends in the phone and cable lobby have come to pass," Fulton said, that doesn't seem to matter much to Pai, "who would rather please a handful of industry lobbyists than do right by the millions of internet users and innovators who demanded net neutrality."