by Tom Hicks, a resident of Montpelier, VA and a Democratic Candidate for Congress in Virginia’s 1st Congressional District. His website is: https://tomhicks4congress.org/
Net Neutrality and Internet Freedom
Net Neutrality is the basic principle that prohibits internet service providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from speeding up, slowing down or blocking any content, applications or websites you want to use, such as NETFLIX. Net Neutrality is the way that the internet has always worked. Neutrality is crucial for small business owners, startups and entrepreneurs, who rely on the open internet to launch their businesses, create markets, advertise their products and services, and reach customers. We need the open internet to foster job growth, competition and innovation.
In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reclassified broadband providers as common carriers under as Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. Under Title II, common carriers can’t “make any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.” Title II gives the FCC the authority it needs to ensure that companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon can’t block, throttle or otherwise interfere with web traffic. Title II preserves the internet’s level playing field, allowing people to share and access information of their choosing.
In May 2017, the FCC, under the direction of Chairman Ajit Pai, who was appointed chairman by President Donald Trump in January, voted to approve a proposed rulemaking that would undo the existing net neutrality regulations. The official comment period for this rulemaking ended in July 2017. This policy change is being supported by Republicans like Congressman Rob Wittman (VA 1st District).
Congressman Wittman recently wrote a letter supporting FCC efforts to roll back net neutrality provisions claiming that he was defending internet freedom and the freedoms of the American people (https://wittman.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=1250). He described the current application of Title II regulations to internet service providers as “heavy handed regulations, ushered in by the Obama Administration” to give “the FCC unlimited powers to not only control the price and speed of the internet, but also content.” While he claims that it is the government that controls content, speed and price, what he is really advocating is that internet service providers be given free rein to control web traffic and selectively throttle content to the benefit of their own content.
Note that in addition to being internet service providers both AT&T and Comcast are also content providers (AT&T will soon close a deal to own Time-Warner and Comcast owns NBC-Universal). Rep. Wittman’s approach would remove the internet protections embodied in Title II and replace them with nothing.
What we need, instead, is to maintain Title II protections while Congress seeks bipartisan legislation that would permanently protect net neutrality and prohibit blocking and throttling of internet content. In 2010, Verizon and Google worked together to propose a legislative framework to “preserve the open Internet and the vibrant and innovative markets it supports, to protect consumers, and to promote continued investment in broadband access.” This proposal also recommended that broadband Internet access be eligible for Federal universal service fund support to spur deployment in unserved areas and to support programs to encourage broadband adoption by low-income populations. Regardless of the approach that is finally adopted, we must maintain Net Neutrality protections while Congress works through replacement legislation.