Preserving Democracy: The Imperative of Restoring Net Neutrality

"The Resurgence of the Net Neutrality Battle: A Crucial Element for Democracy"

The fight for network neutrality, commonly known as the open internet, has been reignited. With the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chair finally having a majority after nearly three years of a deadlock, a vote is on the horizon, expected early in the new year. This is a move that should have been initiated years ago, as net neutrality rules were not only in place but also court-approved until the tenure of then-President Donald Trump's FCC chair, Ajit Pai. Pai, at the behest of major internet service providers like Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast, discarded these rules.

The absence of net neutrality rules leaves the door open for telecom giants to throttle internet service, block access to specific websites, prioritize their subsidiaries, or give preference to wealthy content providers willing to pay a premium for faster carriage. In essence, this results in fast lanes for the affluent and slow lanes for the general population. Without these rules, internet service providers are not bound by concerns such as consumer privacy, fear of disconnection, or transparency in billing practices.

This lack of regulation creates a world where citizens cannot fully leverage the potential of the internet, competition among carriers is stifled, and the FCC struggles to protect broadband from national security threats. It represents gatekeeper control, jeopardizing free speech and hindering a vibrant civic dialogue. The internet, originally envisioned as the town square of democracy, where citizens could inform themselves, organize, and voice their opinions, is now under threat.

The implications extend to a diversity dimension, raising concerns about the potential censorship of civil rights or social justice sites by internet service providers. Denying access to such platforms undermines the democratic principles of free speech and equal representation. Allowing a handful of dominant entities to control and manipulate information poses a direct threat to the foundations of democracy. As the battle for net neutrality resumes, the outcome holds significant consequences for the democratic fabric of our society.

"The Unsettled Legacy of Net Neutrality: A Journey from Telecommunications to Information Services"

The protracted battle over net neutrality is a conflict that, ideally, should never have arisen. Born in the telecommunications realm, broadband internet, had it not been for the staunch opposition of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), would have remained under the umbrella of telecommunications regulation. This classification would have subjected it to the consumer and competition safeguards outlined in Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, akin to the regulatory framework that governed its precursor, the telephone.

However, ISPs vehemently resisted such oversight. Deploying a formidable army of industry lawyers and lobbyists to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and wielding substantial campaign contributions on Capitol Hill, they succeeded in steering broadband away from Title II classification. The FCC, during my tenure as a commissioner (in a dissenting minority), voted to reclassify broadband as an "information service." This strategic move stripped away various consumer protections, leaving broadband in a regulatory space with limited agency oversight.

The internet has evolved into an integral aspect of our daily lives, influencing our jobs, health, education, entertainment, news consumption, public discourse, and even religious practices. Access to affordable, high-speed broadband, I contend, is a prerequisite for full participation in contemporary civic life. This essential service, comparable to the significance of telecom in previous generations, demands careful consideration and responsible governance to ensure its democratic values are preserved.

As the renewed battle for net neutrality gains momentum, we are likely to be inundated with ISP messages, potentially characterized as propaganda, assuring us that all is well and that they can manage any issues without burdensome regulations. It is crucial to clarify that advocates for net neutrality are not advocating for heavy-handed regulation but rather seeking credible public interest oversight for a service so integral to our collective future.

History underscores that consumer protection, privacy, transparency, competition, and national security are not intrinsic priorities for massive corporate entities. These values are democratic virtues that necessitate safeguarding through public interest oversight. The aim is to establish well-designed net neutrality rules, providing certainty for all stakeholders. Such regulations not only serve the interests of consumers and citizens but may also prompt ISPs to recognize the imperative of conducting their business within the framework of these rules. The objective is clear: to strike a balance that ensures an open and accessible internet while upholding the democratic ideals that underpin our society.

"Urgent Call to Action: The State of Net Neutrality and Broadband Access"

Our nation finds itself lagging not only in net neutrality but also in broadband adoption, the affordability of connectivity, and the scope of government oversight when compared to other countries. The consequences of this disparity are far-reaching, impacting our technological infrastructure, accessibility, and the very fabric of our democracy. As the battle over net neutrality unfolds, the potential implications for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) gaining unchecked power loom large.

ISPs, wielding significant influence, are not only distributors of broadband but are increasingly acquiring content producers, consolidating their control over both distribution and content creation. This union of distribution and content control is a recipe for monopoly, a concerning development that threatens fair competition and diversity of information.

It is imperative to apply the brakes on the expanding power of ISPs. Allowing them to operate without oversight means granting them the freedom to throttle internet speeds, block access to certain websites, compromise user privacy, prioritize a select few over the broader public, and manipulate one of the most revolutionary and opportunity-enabling communication tools in human history.

The call to action is clear: citizens must actively engage in advocating for a fair and open internet. This involves voicing concerns to the FCC, elected representatives, colleagues, and friends. Net neutrality is not just a technological issue; it is a matter of importance to individuals and the nation as a whole. By participating in this dialogue and expressing the significance of an open and accessible internet, we collectively contribute to shaping the future of our digital landscape and safeguarding democratic principles.

"In Conclusion: Safeguarding the Future of an Open Internet"

As the debate over net neutrality intensifies, it becomes evident that our nation is grappling with a digital divide, trailing behind in crucial aspects such as net neutrality, broadband adoption, connectivity costs, and government oversight compared to our global counterparts. The stakes are high, and the consequences of inaction pose a threat to the very essence of a free and open internet.

The growing power of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is a cause for concern, particularly as they extend their reach into content production, consolidating control in a manner reminiscent of monopolies. This trajectory, if unchecked, jeopardizes fair competition, diversity of information, and the fundamental principles of democracy.

Now is the time to apply the brakes on the unchecked power of ISPs. Their freedom from oversight not only endangers net neutrality but also grants them the ability to manipulate internet speeds, control access, compromise privacy, and favor a select few over the broader public. It undermines the transformative potential of the internet as a liberating and opportunity-creating tool.

The call to action is clear and urgent: citizens must actively engage in advocating for an open and accessible internet. By expressing concerns to the FCC, elected representatives, colleagues, and friends, individuals contribute to shaping the future of our digital landscape. Net neutrality is not merely a technological matter; it is a vital issue that resonates with each citizen and holds profound implications for the democratic ideals we hold dear. Through collective effort, we can navigate the complexities of this digital era and ensure that the internet remains a beacon of innovation, inclusivity, and democratic principles for generations to come.