A tidal wave of criticism has engulfed the United States’ Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after agency executive Ajit Varadaraj Pai announced 14th December as the day that the commission could repeal net neutrality.
Pai made the declaration yesterday in an article titled How the FCC Can Save the Open Internet, published in the Wall Street Journal.
In the article, Pai outlines his reasons for repealing ‘burdensome’ regulations, first enacted into law under the Obama Administration. Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs are ‘common carriers’ of a ‘utility’, and as such are forbidden from enacting pricing models on what the customer accesses online (for example, charging just for accessing social media). With Obama, these tenets were enshrined in updates to the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications act of 1996 in 2015.
In his article, Pai calls for a return to a ‘competitive free market’ approach to web services. Pai writes: “We have proof that markets work: For almost two decades, the US had a free and open internet without these heavy-handed rules. There was no market failure before 2015. Americans weren’t living in a digital dystopia before the FCC seized power. To the contrary, millions enjoyed an online economy that was the envy of the world.”
However, huge numbers of consumers have expressed their abhorrence for the plan. Hordes of customers have contested that US telecom providers such as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T could ‘price gouge’ or ‘throttle’ (reduce the performance of their internet) based on how much consumers can pay or where they are located.
Derisive comments abound on Pai’s article on both the WSJ and his Twitter announcement of the plans. One commenter, Sharif Ahmed, commented upon WSJ article: “THE INTERNET IS A UTILITY. Also, what tangible benefit do consumers receive? Not one has been described by Pai. Every benefit Pai described is a benefit to ISPs, who already have oligopolistic holds on broadband, and are consolidating year over year. All he preaches are these abstract free market arguments, but nowhere does he provide a guide to an internet that will be both ‘faster’ and ‘more affordable.’”
Companies such as Google and Amazon have also protested, noting that it could allow telecoms companies to prioritise their own services – such as streaming and shopping – over others. Meanwhile, many Subreddits on global media aggregator Reddit have ‘turned red’ today to raise awareness on net neutrality, by upvoting posts urging US citizens to phone Congress and demand a continuation of the principle. These upvoted posts link to websites such as BattleForTheNet, which advises casual consumers on how net neutrality protects common pricing and even provides a script which callers can orate to their respective Congress-people. According to BattleForTheNet, more than 266,000 calls have been made already, and more than 61,000 this week.
The proposals to repeal net neutrality will be voted on during the next FCC meeting, on 14th December. But there are worries however that the principle could be cast down, as there is a Republican majority of three (Pai included) on the team of five FCC Commissioners.