For months, most internet users have held their breath in anticipation of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) repeal of net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers and regulating governments have a moral duty to treat all data and internet users the same.
Unfortunately, for adamant internet users and anyone who appreciates the free flow of information it provides, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai successfully eliminated the rules that kept net neutrality in place.
Net neutrality rules were widely supported by Americans who use the internet. The rules were set to protect internet users from internet service providers that may attempt to block or throttle internet content and from charging websites or other online services for priority treatment on the network.
Public opinion has not swayed since the rules were developed two years ago. Multiple surveys have found that net neutrality is widely supported by both Democrats and Republicans. Yet, Pai moved forward with the repeals, why?
The most prominent influencers of the decision, besides Pai himself, are conservative think tanks and the internet service providers who claim that the change will lead to economic growth. The public has a different opinion.
The move was met with widespread protests, folloed by internet users foreseeing situations like paying substantial amounts of money to watch a YouTube video, or not being able to afford access to the internet at all. Their worries are a bit blown out of proportion, but they are right to be wary. This move is one step closer to corporations deciding what content the public can and can’t access via the internet.
Consider this scenario: A political campaign, on whatever scale that may be, where the wealthier candidate, or the candidate with ties to a corporation that happens to be an internet service provider, has the power to limit what potential voters see when they log onto the internet.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of this whole situation, there is virtually nothing the public can do about it. The FCC is not only not required to follow public opinion, but comments are often dismissed.
The Commission allowed their docket to be filled with fraudulent comments, some of which came from spam bots and scammers. It’s believed that Pai made no attempt to weed out these comments so that all of the comments could be seen as fraudulent.
The FCC also refused to deliver evidence for an investigation into fraudulent comments, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said in a statement in November. Schneiderman said that there was “a massive scheme that fraudulently used real Americans’ identities” in order to “drown out the views of real people and businesses.”
As a country that takes pride in its ability to allow for the free flow of expression and ideas, the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality took the greatest tool of expression and information ever created and put it into the hands of corporations. Hopefully the internet doesn’t turn from a means of innovation to a means of manipulation.