That the vote to repeal net neutrality was expected didn’t make it any less shocking.
For those still hazy on the issue: net neutrality ensures that internet service providers, or ISPs, must service websites with equal speed. Without it, smaller companies like nonprofits and startups may not be able to afford higher costs for adequate speed while ISPs — like cable companies now — could sort internet activity into prepaid packages.
The issue has galvanized free speech advocates, saying that slow page loading — potentially for pertinent civic action or general information — poses a threat to democracy.
Public outcry in 2015, arguably made possible by John Oliver, forced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enshrine these consumer protections under Title II, which regulated ISPs in the same vein as utilities. Under the leadership of former Verizon corporate lobbyist and now Chairman Ajit Pai, the FCC voted on party lines to repeal what it called “heavy-handed” regulation on Thursday.
But all is not lost, thanks again to the judicial branch. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who had been investigating fake comments of support for the vote flooding the FCC, announced he would lead a multistate lawsuit against the regulatory rollback.
Plus, a majority of registered voters supported the Title II regulations, according to a Morning Consult/Politico poll. Public comments filed for the FCC may have been futile to swing the vote, but Congress — our legislative body at the mercy of voters — could be more receptive.
Within hours, at least sixteen U.S. senators announced plans to introduce a resolution to undo the action. Federal legislators have the power to induce the regulation-reversing Congressional Review Act within 60 days while state and local leaders seek options.
State Sen. Scott Wiener immediately announced plans to bring forward legislation when the state lawmakers reconvene in January that would protect net neutrality in California. It remains to be seen how it would interact with the newly-established federal rules, though Wiener says strong arguments exist to give states authority to regulate its internet access.
“The FCC completely abandoning its responsibilities to protect the free and open Internet will go down as one of the biggest mistakes in Internet policy history,” says Ernesto Falcon, legislative counsel for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, in a statement. “In light of the complete absence of federal protections, we absolutely must have state laws fill the void on both privacy and network neutrality.”
Until the courts or Congress takes action, the public will have to rely on good old-fashioned brand scrutiny to keep ISPs fearful of the backlash.
In the Bay Area, internet provider Sonic told SF Weekly that it would uphold net neutrality for its customers. Comcast, being the much larger and more common provider for regional residents, has not had consistent messaging to ensure its customers of the same.
The internet, how we use it, and how we pay for it could be wildly different within one year. What’s certain is that now is perhaps the most crucial time for the internet since its inception.