Wednesday at midnight, Eastern Time, is the deadline to submit public comment on the Federal Communications Commission's plan to roll back net neutrality rules that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from limiting or prioritizing customers' access to particular websites.
"Giant corporations shouldn't dictate how we use the internet. Most people agree with that principle."
—Trevor Timm, the Guardian
"Giant corporations shouldn't dictate how we use the internet. Most people agree with that principle, and that's why the Federal Communications Commission passed the incredibly popular net neutrality rules in 2015," writes Trevor Timm at the Guardian.
The 2015 ruling reclassified ISPs as under Title II authority, enabling the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to regulate them as a public utility. Because of the ruling, telecommunications companies must treat all online content equally, and cannot slow down, speed up, or block content.
However, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee who wants to rescind the 2015 rules, "has dubbed the FCC's new proposal to rollback the Obama-era net neutrality rules the Restoring Internet Freedom Act, ostensibly trying to confuse consumers into supporting a proposal that certainly will leave corporations with vastly more power to control how we consume information online," Timm explains.
As public support for net neutrality has grown—a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll shows 60 percent of registered voters support the rules, and only 17 percent oppose it—open internet advocates have organized to raise awareness about the issue, including a national day of action last month, which advocacy group Free Press said was part of a long-term effort to "save the internet from Trump and his cronies," as Common Dreams reported.
This is the Trump administration's "second major policy shift with the potential to significantly erode online consumer rights," MapLight reports. In April, President Donald Trump signed a law that allows ISPs to sell customers' private browser histories, even though in a March HuffPost/YouGov poll, 83 percent of adults said it "should not be allowed."
Some, such as CALinnovates executive director Mike Montgomery, have argued: "It's time to end the slowest game of policy pingpong before it drags into another decade. It is high time for Congress to finally step up—after multiple decades of hibernation—and pass affirmative, bipartisan legislation that makes net neutrality the law of the land."
But, as with many regulations designed to protect consumers, proponents of net neutrality have to square off with well-heeled donors. In this case, four major ISPs that support the plan to eliminate net neutrality rules—Comcast Corp., AT&T, Verizon, and Charter Communications—have given more than $1.2 million to the Republican members of Congress who have scheduled a September 7 hearing to discuss legislative options for repealing the 2015 regulations, MapLight reports.
Earlier this week, the open internet group Fight for the Future unveiled crowdfunded billboards targeting representatives who have received contributions from telecom companies and support the rollback, encouraging constituents to contact their elected officials.
"Every member of Congress should take note: supporting the FCC's plan to allow censorship, throttling, and price gouging may get you a few extra campaign donations from big telecom companies, but it will infuriate your constituents, and will come with a serious political cost," said Fight for the Future campaign director Evan Greer.
Despite the telecom companies' push to kill net neutrality, the public is speaking out. While the popular 2015 proposal received more than 4 million public comments, the FCC has received nearly 22 million comments regarding Pai's new proposal—and even extended the comment period deadline to Wednesday night because of the outpouring of public opinion.
However, it's not just the sheer number of comments submitted and people opposed to scrapping the 2015 rules that could sway the upcoming decision. As Ars Technica reported, last month Pai said: "the raw number is not as important as the substantive comments that are in the record."
Pai has said he would be most convinced by economic arguments in favor of keeping the 2015 rules, as Ars Technica further reported:
In a Congressional hearing, a Democratic lawmaker pressed Pai to detail what kind of comments would change his mind about rolling back net neutrality rules. Pai responded that he could be persuaded by "economic analysis that shows credibly that there's infrastructure investment that has increased dramatically" since the net neutrality rules went into effect. Pai said he also would take evidence seriously if it shows that the overall economy would suffer from a net neutrality rollback or that startups and consumers can't thrive without the existing rules.
Both Ars Technica and Quartz have published guidance for how to write "a meaningful FCC comment supporting net neutrality," and Free Press has set up a user-friendly comment submission form with a sample letter. On Twitter, the organization has shared feedback from supporters to explain the various reasons why net neutrality protections are essential: