Net neutrality’s deathbed? Activists and officials vow to fight internet inequality

Stephon Johnson | 11/23/2017, midnight
Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled plans to repeal net neutrality rules, scoring a victory for telecommunications ...
Man at computer Pixabay

Tuesday, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai unveiled plans to repeal net neutrality rules, scoring a victory for telecommunications companies and internet providers.

Pai, who was appointed to his position by President Donald Trump in January, said the agency will vote at a mid-December meeting to rescind President Barack Obama’s net neutrality rules that treated the internet service as a public utility. Obama’s rules blocked telecom companies from blocking or slowing down customers’ access to content and prevented them from charging customers more for certain content.

In a statement, Pai referred to Obama’s policies as “heavy-handed” and said this break would restore internet freedom. “Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the internet,” he said. “Instead the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”

But activists and elected officials have stated that a repeal of net neutrality would do the exact opposite of what Pai says it would and citizens will be shut out of the modern day town’s square.

In a letter addressed to Pai, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman accused the FCC of ignoring a scheme to corrupt the public comment section of their website with fake comments. In the section on net neutrality, Schneiderman said that the fake comments push out the real concerns of businesses and individuals.

“Yet the process the FCC has employed to consider potentially sweeping alterations to current net neutrality rules has been corrupted by the fraudulent use of Americans’ identities — and the FCC has been unwilling to assist my office in our efforts to investigate this unlawful activity,” wrote Schneiderman. “Specifically, for six months my office has been investigating who perpetrated a massive scheme to corrupt the FCC’s notice and comment process through the misuse of enormous numbers of real New Yorkers’ and other Americans’ identities. Such conduct likely violates state law — yet the FCC has refused multiple requests for crucial evidence in its sole possession that is vital to permit that.”

Schneiderman said that his office reached out to multiple FCC officials for assistance, the FCC General Counsel and the FCC Inspector General for help and got no response.

Broadband expert Maya Wiley, the senior vice president for Social Justice at The New School and the Henry J. Cohen Professor of Public & Urban Policy and Management at The New School’s Milano School of International Affairs, said Americans still don’t have equal access in the digital age and that Pai’s proposal would make things worse.

“Scrapping net neutrality could mean that telecom companies can stop us from connecting any of our devices—our smartphones, tablets, laptops or routers—to our home networks and only allow fast traffic to their own brand of phone or the device that they get paid to privilege with their connection,” said Wiley. “Furthermore, large companies like AT&T and Time Warner Cable want to merge, consolidating cable and cellular internet access as well as video distribution. DOJ believes it will harm online video competition, video distribution competition and of course, in the end, consumers.

“Ending net neutrality, along with denying funds for low-income people to subsidize the high cost of their internet access, will worsen the problem and tear up access to the information superhighway,” Wiley concluded.