Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairman Ajit Pai is expected on Wednesday to announce his proposal to roll back net neutrality rules, all but confirming the fears of open internet advocates.
Pai is scheduled to give a speech to the right-leaning Washington, D.C.-based activist group FreedomWorks, which advocates against government regulation. He is expected to say that he wants to undo the landmark 2015 order that classified the internet as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act—a framework that is essential to preventing Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from favoring certain websites by charging for faster loading times or utilizing other pay-to-play maneuvers.
The announcement is expected to come just after Pai met with telecommunications industry lobbyists, where they discussed exchanging the Open Internet Order for a voluntary agreement for ISPs to maintain an unclear set of conditions, the open internet advocacy group Free Press noted.
Free Press president Craig Aaron said Monday, "Pai is determined to give control of the internet to companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon, no matter the cost to our economy and democracy. He's continuing to ignore the mountains of evidence showing that the agency's net neutrality rules are protecting internet users while spurring on investment and innovation."
Pai was appointed to the post by President Donald Trump after former chairman Tom Wheeler, who spearheaded the 2015 rule, stepped down. Aaron slammed the turnaround as an effort to undermine the grassroots resistance movement to Trump.
"Trump's FCC chairman has put on blinders because he's determined to take away basic rights against online discrimination that Congress granted everyone in this country, regardless of their race, ethnicity, politics, or income," Aaron said. "The right to an open internet is essential to dissenting voices, social justice advocates, artists, and competing businesses, none of whom should be at the mercy of the cable and phone companies that want to control what they say and how much they pay for access to content. It's also a right that people of color have exercised to speak truth to power, tell their own stories, and organize against the Trump administration's racist and reactionary agenda."
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Digital rights group Fight for the Future vowed to continue doing just that on Tuesday. The group's campaign director Evan Greer said in a statement, "Ajit Pai isn't even trying to hide the fact that he's a puppet bureaucrat doing the bidding of companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon (his former employer). Moving so quickly to slash the protections that millions of internet users from across the political spectrum fought for is a slap in the face to democracy and poses a serious threat to the future of freedom of expression."
"Net neutrality is the First Amendment of the internet. By ignoring what the public wants and attacking Title II open internet rules, the FCC is playing with fire and potentially opening the floodgates for widespread censorship," Greer said.
The creeping legislative assault on internet regulations favored by Democrats and activists has already resulted in nine broadband companies losing their qualifications to participate in the low-income internet service program Lifeline; ISPs getting the green light to sell user data to the highest bidder; and big telecom companies getting "free reign" to charge higher fees for service and monopolize airwaves.
Aaron continued Monday, "People will see right through Chairman Pai's dishonest plan. As they have before, they will fight back in Congress, at the FCC, and in their communities. They will use the internet to save the internet—and they will remember where their leaders in Washington stood when the future of net neutrality was in jeopardy."
Greer added, "If Ajit Pai thinks that destroying net neutrality is going to be easy, he has another thing coming. Internet users will fight tooth and nail to defend our basic right to connect, create, learn, and share."