Net Neutrality: There are 5 Days to Save What Ajit Pai Killed Last Year
A year ago, on December 14, 2017, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal a package of consumer protections defined as net neutrality, giving the telecommunications companies freedom to manipulate pricing plans for internet service at the dawn of the 5G era. A year on, internet activists acknowledge that their time is running out, but that their fight isn’t finished.
First, let’s rewind to that Thursday in 2017. The two Republican and two Democratic commissioners voted along party lines, meaning FCC chair Ajit Pai, frequently identified in the media as former lawyer for Verizon, held the deciding vote.
“It is time once again for the internet to be driven by engineers and entrepreneurs and consumers, rather than lawyers and accountants and bureaucrats,” Pai said as he prepared to cast his vote. “It is time for us to act to bring better, faster, cheaper internet for all Americans.”
Pai’s comments belie what the removal of net neutrality protections will do, though. By removing those safeguards, ISP’s will have the freedom to create a tiered internet, putting preferred content in “fast lanes” that load much faster. Essentially, not all information will be treated equally, as it is now. Net neutrality has proven a deeply popular concept, and visits to the FCC website from people objecting to its removal crashed the servers. But moneyed interests prevailed and and equal internet remains scheduled for extinction.
Above is a video of the moment that Pai cast his deciding vote to kill net neutrality. And below this paragraph is the impassioned opening to Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s statement. They capture the very different tones of the two sides.
In the following 12 months after the FCC vote, there were major protests, Pai was grilled in Barcelona at Mobile World Congress, and websites like reddit continued to rally the public to persuade congress to save net neutrality by overturning the FCC rule via their Congressional Review Act.
The last day the House of Representatives meets is December 21, the final day they can approve a Senate measure known as the CRA’s discharge petition and send to President Donald Trump, who could sign it.
The non-profit Fight for the Future, formed in 2011 to advocate for consumer protections and freedom on the internet, is lobbying 16 House Democrats that haven’t moved to overrule the FCC via the Congressional Review Act. They haven’t budged because they have taken gobs of money from ISPs, commented Luke Darby in GQ this week.
There’s even a website — Dems Against The Net — that’s been set up. It shows which Democrat members of congress haven’t signed the CRA petition to overrule the FCC’s plan to kill net neutrality. It also crucially shows how much money they have received from ISP’s.
At the local level, states and cities passed their own net neutrality rules that would supersede the FCC’s federal policy. Washington OK’d its own net neutrality protections and New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio was one of many mayors who announced a coalition of sorts. The biggest push-back was the passage of net neutrality protections in California that caused the Justice Department to sue over claims the California laws would cross state borders.
In Washington, D.C., there was a blindingly dumb question from Ted Cruz (punish yourself by watching them above). There were unsatisfying explanations from Aji Pai on why his FCC didn’t come forward with the truth that millions of people left comments on the FCC website calling for net neutrality to be saved. Instead, Pai, carried forth with a politically convenient falsehood that the FCC site crashed because of a DDoS attack, and that there wasn’t actually that much support for net neutrality. Watch that below:
So what has changed in the past year with net neutrality? Publicly, not much, because the issue is still being ironed out (which makes Ted Cruz’s question in the video above so remarkably, willfully stupid). But the landscape will soon change with 5G on the horizon. As ISP’s prepare to offer super-fast 5G connectivity to consumers, a new set of scenarios will soon come to pass: Maybe preferred streaming partners see their programming load very fast, and the start-up streaming service where your friend works sees its content throttled at slower speeds. There are other scenarios and ripple effects that could happen when ISP’s don’t have to follow such a powerful set of consumer protections like net neutrality. Politicians like Cruz — and others who have received donations from ISPs — are quick to point out that nothing changed after net neutrality was struck down, but that’s because it hasn’t had time to. It hasn’t even started yet.
The reason nothing much has happened after net neutrality was eliminated by FCC last December is because there’s still a sliver of of hope it could be restored. While the FCC’s repeal officially took effect on June 11, there are five more legislative days in the House for its members to come to put the needs of their constituents above the ISPs that donated to their political campaigns.
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