Tell Congress to save a neutral internet

The Federal Communications Commission last week voted along party lines to end net neutrality. It was almost anti-climactic. The writing had been on the wall ever since President Donald Trump appointed Ajit Pai to chair the FCC.

Now Congress must intervene to preserve free speech and innovation online.

It’s easy to fall down a technical rabbit hole when discussing net neutrality. Phrases like “Title I vs. Title II regulation,” “common carrier,” “bandwidth throttling” and “paid prioritization” quickly cause most people’s eyes to glaze over. We defer to the explanations available at theday.com and elsewhere for the details.

For now, just know that bytes will no longer be equal online. Internet service providers, not customers, will decide which data are most worthy to fill broadband pipes that connect smartphones and computers to content. Consumers and companies will pay for the privilege of full speed from both directions, and only the provider in the middle will win.

The internet allows people to engage on issues and topics they choose in ways never before possible. Maybe it’s Celtics basketball; maybe it’s Star Wars fandom. Boundless opportunities exist to find other people with similar interests.

That’s especially important for political speech and organizing. The internet empowered revolutionaries in the Middle East, and it connected Americans to presidential campaigns. It helped the Tea Party and Black Lives Matter flourish nationally. It allowed the Standing Rock Sioux Protesters and the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge occupiers to get out their messages.

But there isn’t much profit in a small guerilla app or website. Startups and small businesses that cannot afford fast access to customers will face a huge barrier to competing against established players who can. The innovation and creativity that drove the internet for two decades will wither as a result.

Not that established players are in the clear. Large internet providers have gotten into the content game through mergers and acquisitions. The days of mom-and-pop dial-up internet are long gone.

Verizon might choose to favor its Yahoo Fantasy Football over ESPN’s game. Comcast could make sure that MSNBC videos load quickly and Fox News buffers. It doesn’t have to be an ideological decision to support Rachel Maddow over Sean Hannity; it could just come down to bringing more eyes to the advertisements.

The loss of net neutrality wouldn’t be so disastrous if there were real competition in the broadband marketplace. Most American households have only one or two real options to get online. In New London, it’s either Frontier or Atlantic Broadband.

Lawsuits challenging the repeal of net neutrality are in the works, but they face a steep challenge if they reach the Supreme Court. The current court majority doesn’t often side with consumers over corporations.

Congress could overrule the FCC. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., has pledged to force a vote on the issue. Alternatively, lawmakers could codify net neutrality so that this crucial issue is no longer left to agency rulemaking that can swing a different direction with each new president.

Connecticut’s Democratic congressional delegation unanimously supports net neutrality. “This is a decision which will cause great harm throughout the economy in our country,” Rep. Joe Courtney said.

Congress has had years to protect the internet, but it has failed to do so. The legislation that has come up typically has been weak and riddled with loopholes.

If a good bill does get through Congress, there’s a good chance Trump would veto it. Mustering the supermajorities in the House and Senate to override is a tall order, but not impossible if skittish lawmakers see a groundswell of support for free speech and innovation online.

Use your internet service to quickly contact your elected leaders — while you still can.

 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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