What happened yesterday was outrageous. Officials at the FCC voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality rules enacted during the previous administration, stripping away consumer protections against ISP abuse. The vote ignored a public outcry that had grown loud and clear leading up to the vote, one that included voices from many of the Internet's pioneers, along with 18 state attorney's general and tens of millions of people from all walks of life, both Republicans and Democrats. The process was a farce, though the fight for net neutrality is not over.
Yes, net neutrality advocates lost a battle yesterday. And yes, when the ink dries and the red tape clears, ISPs and wireless carriers will be free to prioritize Internet traffic how they see fit, which could mean throttling or blocking services by competitors. The FTC has agreed to investigate claims of abuse, but only when an ISP is not being transparent. Furthermore, it is not even clear how much authority the FTC has.
The flip side to the net neutrality debate is that government regulation is not the answer; that prioritizing traffic gives ISPs a business model to support network upgrades, including into rural areas that are currently underserved; and that competition will keep companies in check. To the latter point, in areas where customers have a choice of broadband provider, they can vote with their wallet, as the saying goes, giving ISPs sufficient incentive not to screw over customers.
Unfortunately, there are millions of homes where competition either does not exist, or is extremely limited. And it's not just in rural areas, either. I live in an urban area near a university and have exactly two broadband options—Charter and CenturyLink. There are other populated areas that only have access to a single broadband provider. The lack of competition hamstrings free market checks and balances, which is part of the reason why net neutrality is such an important topic.
So, what can you do? Fortunately, the FCC's narrow vote is not the end of the line. Elected officials in Congress can still put the brakes on the process of repealing net neutrality rules. Using the Congressional Review Act, Congress has 60 days to issue a resolution of disapproval and overrule the FCC's decision. In fact, the process has already begun, with Sen. Ed Markey announcing plans to introduce a resolution under the CRA.
"With this CRA, Congress can correct the Commission’s misguided and partisan decision and keep the internet in the hands of the people, not big corporations," Markey said Thursday.
A simple majority vote is needed to pass a CRA resolution in both the House and Senate. Also good news is that over 100 House Republicans did not sign a letter in support of the FCC's plan to repeal neutrality rules, so a majority vote is not out of the question. In reality, however, more than simple majority vote will likely be needed, as President Donald Trump would probably veto the resolution. That being the case, a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate would be needed.
It is an uphill battle, considering net neutrality has become bogged down in politics. But given that many Republicans are already against the FCC's decision, it's not an impossible task. This is why your voice matters. The American Civil Liberties Union (ALCU) has formed a petition to put pressure on Congress to act. It has over 350,000 signatures so far. If you support net neutrality rules, strongly consider taking two seconds to jot your name down as well, and spread the word.
You can also call or email Congress and share your opinion, as well as encourage others to do the same. There will probably be more protests, like the recent one that took place in front of Verizon stores across the country. The bottom line is, considering doing something, anything, to let your opinion be known.
Top Image Source: Flickr via FCC