The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced that chairman Ajit Pai's proposal to roll back net neutrality protections will move forward. Pai and commissioner Michael O'Rielly voted to move the proposal forward; commissioner Mignon Clyburn voted against it.
Pai revealed his proposal in late April. At the same time, the FCC said that removing the net neutrality regulations introduced under former FCC chairman Tom Wheeler would create jobs, encourage companies to improve their networks, and offer better internet access to rural Americans. The decision to regulate ISPs under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, we were told, was the only thing standing in the way of those advances.
Rights groups quickly decried Pai's proposal. Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps said in a statement issued by Common Cause that Pai's proposal would be a "body blow to the open dialogue upon which successful self-government depends." Copps also called the proposal a "red light for democracy and a green light for cable and telecom giants to control where we go and what we do on the internet."
The proposal also caught the ire of Last Week Tonight and its host, John Oliver, who urged his viewers to speak out against Pai's proposal. Depending on who you ask, the segment worked. The FCC said after the episode aired that its site was hit by distributed-denial of service (DDoS) attacks; the Fight for the Future rights group said it's more likely that Oliver's segment inspired people to express their problems with the proposal.
Yet the FCC said in a press release about today's vote that it "took the first step toward restoring Internet freedom and promoting infrastructure investment, innovation, and choice by proposing to end utility-style regulation of broadband Internet access service." It also said Pai's plan revolves around three things: rolling back Title II regulations, classifying mobile broadband internet service as a private mobile service, and eliminating the internet conduct standard. All three are supposed to return internet regulations to their pre-Wheeler state and offer ISPs more freedom.
The backlash was swift--and it didn't come only from tech-focused organizations. Here's what Rashad Robinson, executive director of the Color of Change racial justice organization, said in a statement about the FCC's vote:
Today’s move by the FCC and Chairman Ajit Pai to gut net neutrality rules will devastate Black communities. Net neutrality is essential to protecting our free and open Internet, which has been crucial to today’s fights for civil rights and equality. Our ability to have our voices heard in this democracy depends on an open Internet because it allows voices and ideas to spread based on substance, rather than financial backing. Net neutrality helps to ensure that the Internet is a place for innovation and opportunity for all, rather than just the wealthy few.
This isn't an abstract problem that only affects the ease with which you can stream videos, download games, or visit certain websites. The internet has become a core part of modern society, and Robinson's statement probably won't be the only one warning about the broader implications of deregulating U.S. internet providers.