You love the internet, admit it.
While we learn more every day about its downsides — social media addiction, disinformation, invasion of privacy — the fact is that the internet is still freaking awesome. It connects us instantly to a seemingly infinite library of human knowledge and creativity. It keeps us in touch with family, friends and colleagues anywhere in the world. It’s upending traditional power structures, and changing the rules for what progress is possible within our broken political systems. It gives more people a voice in their own lives than ever before in history.
But there’s a battle happening right now in the United States over the basic principle that makes the internet so transformative: Net neutrality, or the idea that the company from whom you purchase internet access doesn't have the right to control or manipulate what you use it for. For example, Comcast (the parent company of NBC Universal) shouldn't be able to force Xfinity users to read NBC News over CNN, and Verizon (the new parent company of Yahoo and the Huffington Post) shouldn't be able to manipulate Fios customers into reading Yahoo News instead of the New York Times.
Net neutrality isn’t just about how fast your videos load, it’s about the free flow of information and ideas.
A little over a year ago, Ajit Pai, the former Verizon lawyer that President Trump put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission, infamously gutted open internet protections. He handed companies like Comcast, T-Mobile, AT&T and, yes, his former employer Verizon the power to manipulate what we see and do online by blocking apps, throttling websites, offering freebie scams and charging expensive new fees.
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The repeal of net neutrality was one of the most unpopular actions by any government agency in modern memory; people across the political spectrum were outraged. If there’s one thing we can all agree on, it’s that no one wants their cable company or cell phone provider to screw them over more than they already do — or control how they surf the web, listen to music, watch videos or read the news.
Now it’s time to channel that outrage into action. On Wednesday, net neutrality supporters in both the House and Senate introduced the Save the Internet Act — straightforward legislation that overturns Ajit Pai’s corrupt move and reinstates crucial protections for the open internet that never should have been taken away in the first place.
The bill’s passage can't come soon enough. It’s been less than a year since the FCC repeal went into effect, and the telecom providers who “pinky-sweared” that they would behave have been quietly testing the limits of what they can get away with.
Researchers found that the country’s largest cell phone carriers, including Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile, were deliberately slowing streaming speeds to popular smartphone apps like YouTube, Netflix, Amazon Prime and NBC Sports. (Remember that many of these companies have their own content services, so they have an economic incentive to get you to use theirs instead of their competitors, regardless of what you prefer.)
In an extreme example of the danger posed by letting the companies that run our communications infrastructure operate without oversight, Verizon was caught throttling the data services of firefighters battling the worst wildfire in California history. They tried to charge the fire department double to restore service, in the midst of a life-threatening emergency. This is exactly the type of thing the FCC rules that Ajit Pai ripped up were meant to react to and prevent.
And these are just the cases we know about. An ongoing court battle, the threat of congressional action and public scrutiny have likely kept the worst impacts of the repeal of net neutrality temporarily at bay. But it’s clear that telecom companies are chomping at the bit to use their new power as soon as they’re sure the coast is clear.
Meanwhile, none of the alleged economic benefits that Ajit Pai promised would result from his repeal have materialized. Instead, big telecom is laying off workers, prices are continuing to climb and, though Pai claims investment in new broadband access is soaring, it actually isn’t.
Taken aback by the overwhelming public opposition to their attack on net neutrality, telecom lobbyists have been desperately trying to confuse lawmakers and the public. Last month, cable-backed members of Congress began to circulate three separate pieces of “Trojan horse” legislation that, if passed, would permanently undermine the open internet while claiming to save it. These phony bills could weaken net neutrality long term even if Ajit Pai’s order can be undone by the courts or a future FCC chair.
That’s why the Save the Internet Act is so important: It’s a simple up-or-down vote on the future of the free and open web, and lawmakers have nowhere to hide. They’ll have to go on the record so we know: Are they standing up for us, their constituents? Or are they shilling for telecom monopolies who write them big checks and send around lobbyists to take them out to golf games?
The bill is similar in intent to the resolution that passed the Senate with bipartisan support after the FCC repealed net neutrality, only to die in the House when leadership refused to bring it up for a vote. Now we have another chance.
The Save the Internet Act is one of the few pieces of congressional legislation that actually does what it says; it’s the only real net neutrality bill out there. Everyone should tell their lawmakers to support it.