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FCC to vote on internet regulations Thursday

Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to repeal Net Neutrality regulations

December 13, 2017


Illustration by Langley Leverett

He sits at the desk, a picture of comfort and ease. He scrolls through his Reddit feed, eyes glazing over from the lack of interesting content. There is a streaming podcast in the background, a song playing from Youtube on the monitor, and every so often, a text message will sound through. Although, when a red image with white bold letters slides past the homepage of Reddit, he stops. He scrolls back. He reads. The post reads: “URGENT. If you’re not freaking out about Net Neutrality, you’re not paying attention.”

On Nov. 21, the Federal Communications Commission’s chairman, Ajit Pai, announced a plan that would rollback democratic rulings during Obama’s presidency regarding internet regulations. In early 2015, the former F.C.C. chairman, Tom Wheeler, worked to prevent the internet from becoming overrun with business interests, and to instead remain a free and open public utility. In classifying broadband internet as a public utility, it resulted in pushing the in pushing the internet into the realms of federal management.

This order from Wheeler extended the internet’s Net Neutrality in the US, which is the assertion that cyberspace should not be hindered or controlled by powerful corporations, and therefore should remain an accessible and unbarred service.

However, shortly afterward these orders, internet service providers like Verizon and ComCast challenged this order in court, but it withstood. The ruling prevented ISP’s from throttling internet speed and simultaneously charging prices for different benefits.

When Pai was appointed as the chairman in early 2017, he called the Net Neutrality rules “heavy-handed” and “unnecessary.” He doesn’t discern the government’s involvement as a necessity, and rather emphasizes that Net Neutrality is another facet of consumerism that is being micromanaged.

Since that proposal from the FCC, internet users across the country have taken to calling congress over a thousand times a day, sending emails, writing letters and flooding the market with posts. Reddit and Twitter have been the most prominent proponents of Net Neutrality, and are working to elevate the voices of their users to lawmakers in congress.

In an interview with former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, hosted by Corning-Painted Post High School in New York,  he relates that the choices regarding the open internet should be made by the public. He also expresses that the ISP’s are at the peak of economic success, and questions why the previous rules would be stripped.

“The sad thing now is that the Trump FCC is ignoring the outpouring of comments, about 98 percent of people said ‘Don’t take the open internet away,’ and they’re being ignored,” Wheeler said. “Since the adoption of the open internet rule, there has not been a decline in investment. The companies, that are required by law to tell their investors, whether there are any adverse effects of policies like this, have not told them that there has been any risk. Their stocks are at an all time high.”

In simple terms, Wheeler explains why having an accessible internet is crucial to the American population.

“‘Is there going to be open access between all the students, anybody on the internet, and any service provider?’ We have seen instances over time where those who control the network are monopolies for the most part, and two-thirds of homes in America have at most, one choice as to where they would get their high speed internet,” Wheeler said. “If you don’t have any choice, the monopoly makes the rules and [they have] the economic incentive to maximize their position as a gatekeeper, and they have the technological capability to pull that off.. [this] should not be abused. The internet is the most important network in the 21st century. The rules for that network, should be made by the people, rather than the networks themselves.”

Many are fearful that given new guidelines under the FCC, ISP’s will be able to block online content, manipulate internet traffic and basically perform behind-the-scenes censorship of consumer material.

“This whole thing started in 2007 when ComCast blocked BitTorrent from delivering licensed, copyrighted product over the internet because it competed with Comcast paid TV service. The Republican FCC said no, you can’t do that, passed a rule, and ComCast took them to court and the court said ‘No, you can’t do that, unless ComCast is a common carrier,'” Wheeler said. “When the 2010 rules were being argued in court, the attorney for Verizon stood before the three judge panel and said, ‘I have been authorized by my client to say we are appealing this because we intend to prioritize service, we intend to have fast lanes and slow lanes and this won’t let us do that.’ They used to say we will not prioritize. That’s gone from their list of promises.”

Inadvertent censorship is already manifesting through social media.

“Net neutrality hasn’t prevented any censorship from happening. Facebook has been accused of pushing more liberal topics during the election process. Other social media outlets were also rumored to have done this,” computer science teacher Mark Ahrens said. “There will always be some censorship of ideas due to biases being present. Net Neutrality was already in place and it did nothing to stop this. ”

The FCC has in place Bright Line rules meant to safeguard consumers from discrimination against internet traffic.

“Since the adoption of the open internet rule, there has not been a decline in investment. The companies, that are required by law to tell their investors, whether there are any adverse effects of policies like this, have not told them that there has been any risk. Their stocks are at an all time high.”

— Tom Wheeler

“Internet access is an essential vector of the century, in 2000 about 50 percent of Americans use the internet, and today it’s about 95 percent. There are basically four companies that control your access to the internet, ComCast, Charter, AT&T, and Verizon,” Wheeler said. “[ISP’s] have to be open. No blocking, no throttling, no paid prioritization. What’s burdensome about that? It’s a simple rule that says you will not abuse your position as the provider of an essential service. I don’t think there’s a difference between a big company or a small company; you should not abuse your position. There are no reports that are required. Just a set of rules saying you must act responsible.”

Current chairman Ajit Pai wants to hand over internet regulations to the Federal Trade Commission, instead of managing the networks through overarching measures.

“When I was chairman, [Ajit Pai] was a commissioner, and he opposed everything we did in this regard. Now he’s got an opportunity where he can do something about it. The thing that is sad, is that he’s not just repealing our rules, he is just totally walking away from any responsibliity. From 1934, when the Communications Act was first written, until today, the FCC has been over America’s first wired, then wireless networks. And he’s saying ‘We have no responsibility, we’re going to walk away, if anything happens, the Federal Trade Commission can worry about it,” Wheeler said. “But the FTC is not the expert agency. They have to worry about everything from pharmaceuticals to bleach labeling. The FTC doesn’t have regulatory authority to say here are the kind of rules that people should operate by, they have a judicatory authority to say ‘Oh you shouldn’t have done that, we’re going to fine you.’ So the FTC can’t do anything until the barn has burned down, and by then the damage is done. There needs to be a few basic rules. I understand entirely why the monopolies don’t want those rules. If I was a monopoly, I wouldn’t want those rules either. But the fact of the matter is, that’s not what’s best for the economy, that’s not what’s best for consumers, competition, innovation.”

Wheeler relates that if the vote is passed tomorrow, there will be lawsuits prepared to take action.

“Every major action by the FCC is ultimately reviewed by the Court of Appeals, I’m sure there will be a repeal on this decision, and that appeal comes down to the question, has the agency made a decision based upon the facts in their record, rather than being arbitrary and capricious,” Wheeler said. “The record that exists today does not support that things have changed so much in two years that we ought to walk away from the responsibility that has existed in this agency since 1934. It’s not over until the black robed folks sing.”

Regarding privacy, the FCC has put in place certain statutes that prevent networks from digging into personal information via internet traffic. However, these rules have been challenged, inciting the FCC’s worry that individuals right to privacy has been exceedingly breached.

“They have already repealed the privacy rules that we put in place. Congress did that. We said that you have the right to determine whether or not you want the networks that take you to the internet to be able to snoop on your information. When I make a phone call, on my smartphone, by FCC rule, that information is protected. Verizon can’t turn around and sell that information,” Wheeler said. “But if I use the same device operating on the same network to go to the AirFrance website, that information can be sold, because I’m traversing their site. We thought you ought to be in control of that because it’s your information, not the network’s. They’re providing you a service for which you pay. So we made a rule, saying that you have the ability to say yes or no, you have can ability to collect my information or not. 67 days after, the Republican congress passed a law repealing that provision, and how that relates, is if the ISP’s are not common carriers, then another one of the things that the FCC is forbidden from touching, is protecting your privacy.”

The internet is a diverse atmosphere meant to bring parties together, advance innovation and competition. The internet will face a momentous battle tomorrow, ultimately leading citizens to decide two things: retaliation or subordination.

“Net Neutrality isn’t just about throttling, it’s about the potential to charge for content and since some companies have formed partnerships or own certain media producers and outlets, the potential to add something like an internet toll booth is possible, or completely block specific content. It’s super important that companies acknowledge equality amongst all internet content and this this content is equally accessible whether you are on a laptop with ComCast internet, a cellphone using Sprint, or on a game,” Senior Micheala McAdams said. “The internet isn’t just for entertainment, it’s a place where people can get their message out or spread news and information.” 

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