By Uriel Bauer ‘19
“Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet,” Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), said in a statement released on November 21. This proposal, titled “Restoring Internet Freedom” by the FCC, will reverse the Obama-era decision to classify broadband internet service providers (ISPs, such as Verizon FiOS or Charter Spectrum) as “common carriers” under Title II of The Communications Act of 1934. Being a common carrier, an ISP is currently responsible for providing consumers with internet access without restricting or favoring certain websites. The 2015 decision created what is commonly referred to as “net neutrality” or an “open internet.”
Chairman Pai claims that net neutrality laws harm competition between ISPs and that reversing them will boost development in the future of broadband in the United States. Pai also said in his statement that the 2015 decision was a partisan decision and that it came as a result of “pressure from President Obama.” Repealing the “Title II” decision, Pai will hand regulation of ISPs over to the Federal Trade Commission.
After his statement was released, the internet exploded with articles about the importance of net neutrality, and websites such as savetheinternet.com quickly released calls to action against the FCC. At Heschel, Senior Gidon Kaminer sent an email to the entire student body with the subject “The Internet is Under Attack.” According to Kaminer, “The internet is one of the greatest and most innovative forces for good that has ever been created,” and therefore “every person should be allowed equal access to the internet as a basic human right.”
When separately asked if enough students care about the issue, he said, “Many Heschel students do care, and they have already taken action. Students attended a protest outside of a Verizon store on December 7th to voice their concerns that Chairman Pai is still beholden to his former employee, Verizon, rather than serving the American people.” When asked to give an example of how Heschel students might be harmed, he explained, “If customers are watching Netflix, they aren’t watching TV. So Spectrum can artificially slow traffic to Netflix, so that cable TV seems like a better alternative.”
Contrary to Kaminer’s support of Title II, junior Eduardo Szajman said he supports the FCC’s decision to reverse net neutrality regulations. Szajman, who favors limiting the government’s regulatory power, believes that ISPs will still be held accountable for their actions without the FCC’s interference. “If people are frustrated by their internet speeds and by their cable provider,” he explained, “they can boycott their internet service and use the influence they have as consumers to let their ISP know that they are unsatisfied.”
The FCC collected feedback about the issue of net neutrality during the summer and received passionate responses from both proponents and opponents of net neutrality. However, according to data analytics company Gravwell, 80% of responses were not “organic” and opposed net neutrality, and of the 20% of comments that were only submitted once, 95% favored net neutrality. The inorganic comments were a result of robots that submitted the same comments to the FCC repeatedly.
Now that the feedback collection is over, the vote on Chairman Pai’s proposal is scheduled for December 14th. According to The New York Times, “The two other Republicans on the commission generally vote with Mr. Pai, giving them a majority over the two Democrats.” The most probable way of net neutrality being saved now is the Title II classification of ISPs being upheld in court and the reversal being ruled unconstitutional.