This week, the U.S. government seems poised to roll back the Open Internet Order, a 2015 policy approved by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of a strategy to ensure what is broadly called "net neutrality." Net neutrality requires internet service providers (ISPs) to be "neutral" pipelines, neither favoring one site over another nor getting in the way of what consumers want to see. They are not allowed, for instance, to create fast and slow loading speeds for particular websites, nor block any websites in general. Without net neutrality, an ISP could favor its own search engine or news page (Verizon, for instance, owns Yahoo, and may prefer you use Yahoo over Google, or Yahoo News over The New York Times).
Simply put, net neutrality is good public policy.
Without net neutrality, surfing the internet could become a lot like paying for cable TV. An ISP might decide to section off groups of popular websites and charge extra prices for that bundle, similar to the way cable TV companies bundle premium channels. It also could work in reverse, with an ISP demanding that streaming services such as Netflix or Hulu pay extra to prioritize their streaming traffic. ISPs would have to disclose this information, but with ISP monopolies operating in many areas of the country, it still would leave consumers little choice.
The four leading U.S. ISPs — AT&T, Comcast, Time Warner Cable and Verizon — all support rolling back net neutrality protections. So does the head of the FCC, Ajit Pai, who was appointed to the FCC by former President Barack Obama in 2012 and became head of the commission this year under President Donald Trump. Pai voted against the Open Internet Order in 2015 as a commissioner and has led the fight to dismantle it. Consumers shouldn't be surprised to learn that before joining the FCC, Pai was a deputy general counsel for Verizon — and that Verizon has praised Pai's proposed "light-touch regulatory framework" for oversight.
Many Republican congressmen and senators also want to see net neutrality gone, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise. In 2014, he called it part of "the Obama Administration's radical effort to have the government take over more aspects of our economy where there is no justification." In May, he praised Pai's plan to overturn the Open Internet Order. U.S. Sens. Bill Cassidy and John Neely Kennedy have been quieter about it, but it's worth noting that when he was a U.S. Representative in 2011, Cassidy co-sponsored the Orwellian-named "Internet Freedom Act" with Scalise. The proposed law was an early attempt to circumvent net neutrality. The only "freedom" in it was for ISPs, not citizens.
Overturning net neutrality is a lose-lose proposition for consumers and small companies — but a big a win for ISPs and conglomerates. The vote is set for this week. We urge everyone interested in a free and open internet to call FCC Chairman Pai at (202) 418-1000. Also call your senators and U.S. representative. Tell them you want and deserve equal access to information on the internet. Do it today.