The Federal Communications Commission, lead by Chairman Ajit Pai, revealed a sweeping plan for the ending of Net Neutrality on Tuesday, November 21. The decision, which has sparked monumental outrage from citizens all across the political spectrum, would limit federal regulation of the internet, remove the internet’s classification as a public utility, and give greater power and oversight to internet providers like AT&T and Comcast.
Under the current rules, internet service providers (ISPs) are held to strict standards on the services they provide. ISPs are not permitted to slow down any websites and cannot charge extra for features like high definition streaming. Under the FCC’s proposed deregulation plan, ISPs would be permitted to do both of these things, with the only requirement being that these companies would be forced to notify consumers if they made these changes.
“We are disappointed that the proposal announced today by the F.C.C. fails to maintain the strong net neutrality protections that will ensure the internet remains open for everyone,” said Facebook Vice-President Erin Egan.
The proposed deregulation has attracted criticism from nearly all online sites, both big and small. While tech giants like Facebook and Google were upset, so were community-interaction based sites like Etsy and Pinterest, who both cited the free and open internet as a major factor in their growth.
The proposed repeal has attracted a tremendous amount of public backlash, and has left Pai and the FCC embroiled in controversy. Many citizens were unhappy with the proposed changes, and spurred on by the advice of public figures, in particular Last Week Tonight host John Oliver, went to the FCC website to leave complaints. After one of Oliver’s videos became particularly popular on Youtube and lead to a major influx of complaints, the FCC subsequently responded by making the complaint section of their website more difficult to find.
Additionally, the FCC is under fire for posting fake comments in support of the plan to try and balance the scales, oftentimes writing the complaints under the name of individuals who had never even been to the website, and occasionally even writing comments under the name of deceased individuals. When the FCC finally revealed the data on the complaints, which it only did after the National Hispanic Media Coalition filed a Freedom of Information Act request, it was shown that the website received over 54,000 complaints.
As predicted, at the December 14 vote, the FCC decided to repeal Net Neutrality. Chairman Pai and the two other conservative members of the FCC voted for the repeal in a 3-2 decision. The decision, Pai’s most extreme so far as FCC head, is a continuation of his aggressive deregulation agenda. In the eleven months since his appointment, Pai has already lifted media ownership limits and relaxed policies on how much ISPs can charge charge businesses.
“I dissent, because I am among the millions outraged. The FCC pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers,” said Mignon Clyburn, one of the two Democrats on the FCC panel who voted against the plan. Groups like Free Press are putting pressure on Congress to pass legislation protecting Net Neutrality. Over the coming days and weeks, it will been seen how effective this tactic is, and if Congress listens to the voices of its citizens.