US internet defenders call for 'mass revolt' to against 'scorched earth' assault on net neutrality

November 25, 2017

Open internet advocates warned that “we’re running out of time” to save the web from corporate control. The call to action came after United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairperson Ajit Pai unveiled his long-awaited plan to scrap net neutrality on November 21.

Critics have slammed the plan as “naked corporatism” designed to give a major gift to the telecommunications industry at the expense of the public.

“The reckless wrecking ball strikes again,” former FCC commissioner and current special adviser at Common Cause Michael Copps said in a statement. “FCC Chairman Ajit Pai’s scorched-earth plan for net neutrality displays callous disregard for both process and substance.

“The chairman’s plan to do away with net neutrality will be a disaster for consumers and yet another handout for big business.”

Matt Wood, policy director at Free Press, said Pai’s plan “makes no sense” for a variety of key reasons.

“It ignores the will of people from across the political spectrum, who overwhelmingly support these protections,” Wood said. “It ignores the law and the courts, which have repeatedly upheld the 2015 Title II rules.

“And it ignores the vibrancy of the internet marketplace following adoption of that 2015 order, with incontrovertible economic data showing that both investment in networks and online innovation are flourishing under the very same rules Pai wants to destroy.”

Framed by Pai and its corporate backers as a push to “restore internet freedom”, the outlined plan would do precisely the opposite, say critics, by allowing huge telecom companies to block or throttle online content and charge more for services.

“Internet rights are civil rights,” Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst at the American Civil Liberties Union, declared in a November 21 statement. “Gutting net neutrality will have a devastating effect on free speech online. Without it, gateway corporations like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T will have too much power to mess with the free flow of information.”

Pai’s plan quickly attracted praise from major corporations, appearing to vindicate critics’ concerns that the Republican-controlled FCC is working to deliver a huge “handout to big business”.

In a November 21 statement, Verizon said it is “very encouraged” by the proposed return to “light-touch” regulation. This disregards the fact that opinion polls have clearly and consistently shown that US consumers favour net neutrality.

But if Pai’s announcement is any evidence, he gives public opinion little weight. As Devin Coldewey of Tech Crunch notes, Pai “made no mention of the inconvenient and embarrassing fact that his proposal had attracted historic attention, garnering over 22 million comments — the majority of which opposed it”.

If Pai’s proposals are approved — the FCC is expected to vote on December 14 — companies like Verizon and AT&T will be given extremely broad leeway to charge consumers more for internet access, products and services while facing less oversight.

As well as reversing the classification of the internet as a public utility, Pai’s plan would strip the FCC of enforcement power. It would effectively rely on what critics have derided as an “honour system”, under which corporations will be responsible for transparently reporting their practices.

The Washington Post's Brian Fung noted: “Relying more heavily on Internet providers’ own promises on net neutrality is a departure from the current rules, which lay out clear, federal bans against selectively blocking or slowing websites, as well as speeding up websites that agree to pay the providers a fee.”

Copps concluded that contrary to Pai’s lofty rhetoric about “restoring internet freedom”, the newly unveiled proposals would spell the end of the open internet.

“There can be no truly open internet without net neutrality,” Copps said in a statement. “To believe otherwise is to be captive to special interest power brokers or to an old and discredited ideology that thinks monopoly and not government oversight best serves the nation. In this case, I think it’s both.

“The FCC under Pai is handing over the internet to a few humongous gatekeepers who see the rest of us as products to be delivered to advertisers, not as citizens needing communications that serve democracy’s needs.”

[Abridged from Common Dreams.]

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