On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission decided in a 3-2 vote to repeal the Title II regulations protecting net neutrality. The official vote was made after months of protests both on online platforms like Twitter and Reddit as well as offline on the streets of DC and through call-ins to local representatives.
Net neutrality is a fairly new name for a long defended principle that was eventually legally passed under the Obama administration’s FCC- the idea that all websites should be treated equally (experiencing the same speeds unconditionally) by Internet Service Providers. Many believe upholding this principle through regulation is the only way to protect small businesses and startups, while others feel the Internet is an open resource which the government should not regulate.
FCC chairman Ajit Pai broke the tie vote between pro-repeal commissioners Brendan Carr and Michael O’Rielly and anti-repeal commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel. In their deliberation, chairman Pai rejected the regulation keeping net neutrality in place, making a speech in support of a result that he had been working toward since Title II’s was passed.
“What is responsible for the phenomenal development of the Internet?” Pai said. “It certainly was not heavy-handed government regulation. On express orders from the previous White House, the FCC scrapped the tried-and-true, light touch regulation of the Internet and replaced it with heavy-handed micromanagement.”
In his statement, Pai argued that net neutrality has only served to lengthen the “digital divide” (the barriers to impoverished peoples obtaining Internet access) and inhibits technological innovation, and went on to dismiss the “apocalyptic rhetoric” he believes has dominated the other side of the issue.
“It is difficult to match [the] mundane reality to the apocalyptic rhetoric that we have heard from Title II supporters,” Pai said. “Returning to the legal framework that governed the Internet from President Clinton’s pronouncement in 1996 until 2015 is not going to destroy the Internet. It is not going to kill democracy. It is not going to stifle free expression online.”
On the other side, commissioner Mignon Clyburn bitterly lamented what she felt was the death of the Internet, at the same time promising the ruling would not be permanent.
“Why are we witnessing such an unprecedented groundswell of public support, for keeping the 2015 net neutrality protections in place?” Clyburn said. “Because the public can plainly see, that a soon-to-be-toothless FCC, is handing the keys to the Internet… over to a handful of multi-billion dollar corporations.”
Clyburn went on to emphasize the bipartisan consensus on the issue, in light of five Republican Congressmen calling for a halt to the FCC’s vote.
“The sad thing about this commentary, it pains me to say, is what I can only describe as the new norm at the FCC: a majority that is ignoring the will of the people,” Clyburn said. “A majority that will stand idly by while the people they serve lose.”
In terms of backlash at higher levels of office, Clyburn is indeed not alone. The effects of the vote are not supposed to go in effect for 60 days after the vote, and the changes have already seen legal challenge from citizens, interest groups and Congressmen alike.
The advocacy group Free Press is expected to come out against the vote soon, and Democrats as well as at least six Republicans of Congress came out against the vote beforehand, calling for its delay. For the next few months, this decision will involve serious judicial proceedings to determine its validity.
While the vote begins its battle in legal court and the court of public opinion, Pai has posted a video entitled “7 Things You Can Still Do On The Internet After Net Neutrality,” in which he sports eclipse glasses, wields a lightsaber and plays with a fidget spinner. The video has seen intense backlash from many who see it as a mockery of the people.
And many believe it reflects how out-of-touch the net neutrality vote was.
Photo courtesy of GameZone