The Senate on Thursday confirmed two nominees for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)—Jessica Rosenworcel, a Democrat, and Brendan Carr, a Republican—bringing the agency back to full staff and sparking fears among Open Internet activists and lawmakers that net neutrality will soon be under threat once more.
As Politico reports, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai now "has the votes he needs to roll back" the 2015 Open Internet Order, which prevents large telecommunications companies from controlling online content and requires that all traffic be treated equally. He also has an ally in Carr, who was a lawyer for large telecom companies.
Activists and Democratic lawmakers also raised alarm on Thursday as Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) met with some of the nation's largest Internet service providers (ISPs)—including Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T—to discuss scrapping net neutrality, which some have labeled "the First Amendment of the Internet."
Writing for Mashable, Dipayan Ghosh and Joshua Stager summarized why Open Internet advocates should be concerned about the meeting:
Walden says he wants to bring an end to the "ping-pong games of regulation and litigation." But that ping-pong game only exists because the big ISPs insist on endlessly relitigating this settled law. Walden also wants to examine legislation on net neutrality, citing a dangerous and misguided draft bill from 2015. That bill would gut net neutrality and the FCC's authority to address future problems. It would have been a disaster for the open internet and an unnecessary government intrusion into an online marketplace that is functioning well under current law. It does not need to be resurrected in 2017, and it is not the starting point for negotiation that Walden seems to think it is.
The meeting came in the midst of an unprecedented surge in support for net neutrality at the grassroots. As Free Press, an Open Internet advocacy group, noted last month: "The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) docket for public comments on the existing net neutrality rules has already surpassed all records."
Sens. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), and several other prominent senators highlighted the growing support behind net neutrality in a letter asking Pai to "extend the comment period for its proposal to undo the Open Internet Order and net neutrality protections."
In addition to the lawmakers' effort, Change.org is circulating a petition warning of the consequences of the FCC's proposed net neutrality rollback, and urging the public to resist.
"The [FCC] is moving to end net neutrality—which could mean giving big cable companies room to charge extra fees, block, and censor users," the petition reads. "This decision could have global implications for the way the world shares and receives information from journalists, newsrooms, and NGOs."