FCC Votes to Start Slashing Net Neutrality Protections

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.), Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) hold up a banner at Thursday's rally for net neutrality in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Ron Wyden/Twitter)

FCC Votes to Start Slashing Net Neutrality Protections

'This proposal should be chilling to everyone who values the internet as a platform for free speech, commerce, entrepreneurship, and citizen engagement'

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) under President Donald Trump on Thursday afternoon voted to begin slashing regulations protecting a free and open internet.

"This doublespeak--the claim that every attempt to protect true free market competition from monopoly control is necessarily a regulatory attack on the free market--is pure Orwellian demagoguery."
--Writers Guild of America, West

The decision (pdf) ran along party lines, with the FCC's two Republican members voting to dismantle net neutrality. Mignon Clyburn, the Commission's Democratic member, was the sole dissenting vote.

"While the majority engages in flowery rhetoric about light-touch regulation and so on, the endgame appears to be no-touch regulation and a wholescale destruction of the FCC's public interest authority in the 21st century," Clyburn wrote in her dissent, according toThe Hill.

Digital rights activists, many of whom spent the morning rallying in D.C. before the FCC's expected vote, condemned the decision and vowed to mobilize against it.

"Something I've learned over the past 11 years of work in black and brown, unemployed, citizen, and immigrant communities is that the right to free speech means little without the means to be heard. The internet can be that means, and in so many important moments in recent years--from Black Lives Matter to Occupy--it has been," said Bryan Mercer, executive director of Media Mobilizing Project, at the morning's rally.

"But only if we have strong protections like Title II and net neutrality," Mercer continued. "We at Media Mobilizing Project, alongside hundreds of community organizations across the country in MAG-Net, are going to fight [FCC chairman] Ajit Pai, Trump, and their agenda, until we win."

"Chairman Pai has described the Open Internet rules as 'a panoply of heavy-handed economic regulations' that could harm 'one of the most incredible free market innovations in history,'" read a statement from the Writers Guild of America, West. "This doublespeak--the claim that every attempt to protect true free market competition from monopoly control is necessarily a regulatory attack on the free market--is pure Orwellian demagoguery. In reality, the Internet is free now, and can remain free from monopoly control by ISPs [Internet Service Providers], but only if the Open Internet rules remain."

"This proposal should be chilling to everyone who values the internet as a platform for free speech, commerce, entrepreneurship, and citizen engagement," said Jonathan Schwantes, senior policy counsel for Consumers Union, in a statement.

"Preserving the open internet has prompted an unprecedented response from consumers on multiple occasions, with millions voicing their continued support for net neutrality rules," Schwantes continued. "We implore Chairman Pai to listen to the interests of the public the Commission was tasked with protecting."

"We're deeply disheartened," wrote Mozilla, the non-profit behind the popular Firefox browser. "Today's FCC vote to repeal and replace net neutrality protections brings us one step closer to a closed internet. Although it is sometimes hard to describe the 'real' impacts of these decisions, this one is easy: this decision leads to an internet that benefits Internet Service Providers (ISPs), not users, and erodes free speech, competition, innovation, and user choice."

Gigi Sohn, an Open Society Foundations fellow and a Mozilla fellow who served as counselor to former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, also explained in a statement why the FCC's vote is so egregious:

Today the Trump FCC begins its dismantling of the Internet rules that protect American consumers on behalf of the few huge companies that control their access to the Internet. Net neutrality rules ensure that consumers can control what they say and do online, but Chairman Pai prefers to give that control instead to Comcast, AT&T, Charter, and Verizon. That is an outcome that no American wants regardless of party or ideology.

It is no secret that net neutrality is enormously popular with the American people, and the previous FCC made sure to ensure, and the courts agreed, that its rules were grounded in the strongest legal authority (Title II of the Communications Act of 1934). However, today's action signifies more than a fight over net neutrality. What is now at stake is the ability of the FCC--the expert agency by law--to protect consumers on what is now one of the most critical inputs to the U.S. economy--broadband networks. Instead, Chairman Pai is proposing to abdicate the FCC's role and give it to the Federal Trade Commission, while an important partner, cannot make rules and lacks the technical expertise to do so. Under the FTC, consumers will have no protection whatsoever until long after the harm to them is done.

Congressional Republicans already made the grave mistake of repealing the FCC's broadband privacy rules, which no American asked for and Americans let them know it. They and Chairman Pai would be wise to think twice before attempting to do the same to net neutrality.

The vote opens up a new 90-day public comment period, and advocates urge supporters of an open internet to leave a comment letting the FCC know what they think about Thursday's decision.

Meanwhile, organizers are also urging the FCC to come clean about its allegations that a DDoS attack sidelined its website during the public comment period preceding Thursday's vote, and to address evidence that right-wing bots were using stolen private information to leave comments against net neutrality.

"The FCC is still refusing to release proof of an alleged DDoS attack that silenced voices in support of Title II net neutrality protections, and now there is significant evidence that a person or organization has been using stolen names and addresses to fraudulently file comments opposing net neutrality," said Evan Greer, campaign director of Fight for the Future, in a statement Thursday.

"If this FCC has any legitimacy, it simply cannot move forward until an investigation has been conducted," Greer continued. "We need to know who is doing this, if Ajit Pai or other FCC officials knew that it was happening, and whether any of this illegal activity has been funded by companies like Comcast and Verizon who have a long history of financing astroturf groups. State Attorneys General should immediate investigate whether people in their state were affected by this, and the FCC should immediately release any and all information that it has about who is submitting these fake comments."

Democratic members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce are also urging (pdf) the committee and subcommittee chairs--all Republicans--to hold a hearing that would examine the FCC website's failure to lodge all net neutrality comments and the agency's claims of a DDoS attack.

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