In the recently concluded US presidential election, the Oval Office occupant switched from Democrat to Republican. This has many repercussions, but none may be felt as swiftly or dramatically as the makeup of the FCC. This is not good news if you favor net neutrality.
As you may know, under former Obama appointee, Chairman Tom Wheeler, two years ago the FCC reclassified broadband as a Title II common carrier service. Thus, presently, the net neutrality rules prohibit home and mobile Internet providers from blocking or throttling traffic, or giving priority to web services in exchange for payment. This could now change.
Democrats in Washington are ramping up their rhetoric in support of net neutrality, ahead of a potential assault on it by the new Trump administration and its anti-net neutrality FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai. Democrats say that Pai is merely a pawn for ISPs, and is bent on doing their bidding. Aside from stoking fears and raising internet users’ temperatures, it is doubtful that, being in the minority in Congress, they can mount anything more than token opposition. That is, unless they can rally the public in favor of keeping the net neutrality rules.
Given the current situation on Capitol Hill, if President Trump is in favor of dismantling net neutrality, opponents can’t prevent it unless they can forge a coalition with some Republicans. The GOP already have one eye on the 2018 mid-term elections, in which, historically, the party in power is often given a reality check by the electorate. For Democrats, it represents a chance to make hay with voters by marshaling the apparently overwhelming support of citizens for the free and open internet that net neutrality now affords.
The Democrats think this is a possibility.
“Remember that two years ago, nearly 4 million Americans offered comments on the Open Internet Order,” Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said at a press conference this morning.
“[There will be] a political firestorm that will make the 4 million who communicated several years ago look like a minuscule number. Net neutrality rules ensure that those with the best ideas, not simply the best-funded ideas, have the opportunity to share their content with the world.”
Trump, who is keenly sensitive to such commentary, is bound to take notice. Of course, these people are attuned to the demographic makeup of these net neutrality apostles. If they seem to be the “elites” from either coast who vote Democrat blindly anyway, rather than the “rock-ribbed” Republicans of Middle America, then their outrage will hold less sway with him.
No, the net neutrality crowd is going to have to do something that the previous occupant of the White House loathed doing. They are going to have to reach across the aisle to snag some support among Republicans, who may be vulnerable in 2018 – especially if there is an anti-Trump backlash.
Concern regarding Trump’s choice of Pai for chairman is particularly disconcerting for Democrats. Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, has vowed to roll back net neutrality rules, as you might expect from such a company. But Pai is not alone in his zeal for a rollback. US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) was recently named chairperson of a key Congressional subcommittee on telecommunications. She, net neutrality adherents know, introduced The Internet Freedom Act to reverse the net neutrality rules.
Numerous other Republicans have also jumped on the anti-net neutrality bandwagon, further ingratiating them to the cash-flush ISPs.
Of course, net neutrality’s demise is not certain, and some of the rules may remain in force and untouched. Pai decries depictions of him as some sort of malicious marauder. After his first FCC meeting as chairman, he said: “I favor a free and open Internet and I oppose Title II.” He did not say whether he intends to enforce the net neutrality rules that remain in place. So, it is possible that Title II designation is abandoned but that an open, free internet with healthy competition survives the feared Republican onslaught.
If you feel strongly about the issue, be sure to make your opinion known to your legislative leaders in Congress – especially if they are Republicans, and you are one of their constituents. In this populist political climate, more than any other time I can recall, public voices are being listened to, and are not just being given lip-service.
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