Net neutrality will be the internet’s most important civil rights issue
Net neutrality is the concept that internet service providers should treat all traffic equally.
It has been championed by activists, tech companies, and a number of politicians, and is being used to pressure the FCC to undo its 2015 decision to reclassify broadband internet as a utility under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.
But it also has been used by companies like AT&T and Verizon to try and stifle innovation and to slow the pace of progress on internet access.
It’s a common refrain among those pushing for net neutrality.
“The net neutrality issue is a civil rights crisis,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said on Twitter earlier this year.
“I’m doing what I can to fight back, but it’s been a fight all my life.”
This week, FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn took the lead on the issue by announcing a proposed rule that would prevent ISPs from charging content providers more for prioritization of their traffic.
The rule would also require ISPs to allow for equal access to all internet traffic.
“As a general matter, we’ve seen that if you don’t have rules that allow you to get on the internet with the same speed that your competitors do, you’re going to lose,” Pai told reporters last week.
“And that’s what we’re trying to do here, is take away from the ability of those companies that are trying to innovate and to get access to the internet.”
The FCC’s proposed rule would allow ISPs to charge content providers a fixed rate, but would also allow the FCC “to make a more robust decision to impose certain obligations on providers of Internet access services.”
It would also “require ISPs to make reasonable efforts to make their services available to consumers at the same speeds that they are providing to consumers of other providers.”
Pai told The New York Times that he would “take a very broad view” of net neutrality to allow “unfettered” competition.
But critics of the rule say that the FCC could also prevent ISPs and content providers from offering the same level of service.
Pai’s plan is an example of how the agency can act to restrict or kill the internet if it’s in the public interest, said David Kostin, a professor of law at the University of California Hastings College of the Law.
“It’s not a good idea to be regulating something that the public has no say in,” Kostan said.
“That would be a serious threat to the public’s ability to participate in the Internet.
The FCC should take a more flexible approach and use its powers under Title I of the Constitution to make the right decisions.”
Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, speaks during a meeting on Internet freedom in Washington, DC, March 1, 2020.
The FCC and the Obama administration have been pushing for internet neutrality rules for years, but Pai has been one of the most vocal critics of net-neutrality rules, particularly after the FCC’s 2015 decision.
Pai has repeatedly stated that net neutrality is not about protecting the public, but rather it’s about allowing the internet to function as a public utility.
Pai’s plan could open the door for ISPs to impose even more stringent rules on what they charge content and what traffic can be delivered to consumers.
“If they could get it approved, then we could see the FCC come in and say, ‘OK, we’ll let you do whatever you want with this,’ and it could be quite a broad, vague regulation,” Kossin said.