As Global Policy Moves To Expand Digital Rights, U.S Faces Crucial Fight Over Equal Access To The Internet
By: Karin Deutsch Karlekar and Christopher Hamlin
In 2013, inventor of the internet Tim Berners Lee reflected, “When you make something universal … it can be used for good things or nasty things … we just have to make sure it’s not undercut by any large companies or governments trying to use it and get total control.” In what seemed like a momentary delay of his prediction—and a win for internet freedom advocates—in late April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit denied the telecommunications industry’s request for an appeal of a 2016 decision that upheld the net neutrality regulatory framework. In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had reclassified the internet as a utility much like regular phone service (where, for instance, the phone company can’t block a call because they don’t like the caller). This allowed for stronger enforcement of existing net neutrality rules that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from arbitrarily price-gouging or discriminating against legal content, users, or platforms by slowing or preventing access to them. The landmark ruling is now under threat as the FCC—under its newly appointed chair, former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai—took an important vote on May 18 to weaken federal oversight of ISPs by no longer applying the Title II “common carrier” classification of the Communications Act to ISPs.
This proposed fast-track roll-back of the 2015 protections represents the latest move by the new administration to strip consumer internet access and privacy protections adopted in the Obama years, which included preventing ISPs from selling your browsing history without permission and expanding broadband subsidies for the poor. Pai’s adamant predisposition against a more enforceable framework for net neutrality is […]