On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission gathered for their December Open Commissions Meeting and, much to the chagrin of internet users the world over, elected to overturn the Obama-era net neutrality laws established in 2015. Central to the concept of net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should not be able to slow or restrict access to content on the internet. Yesterday’s passing of the Restoring Internet Freedom Order, the brainchild of FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, strips the federal commission of its ability to govern the internet and affords ISPs a greater amount of leeway in terms of how much and which parts of the web users may access. Though a widely disliked topic, United States Congressman Steve Scalise later voiced his support for the act through Twitter.
Rep. Scalise may believe the internet to be unbroken, but that mentality isn’t shared by many, as concerns over net accessibility continue to haunt the FCC’s recent decision. As reported on by Cecilia Kang of the New York Times, worries of speed reduction and limited accessibility have led many to take to the streets in protest. Furthermore, Kang reported that the outrage over the order was so severe that Democratic Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was able to present two accordion folders full of letters from angry internet users expressing their disdain. Commissioner Clyburn later went on to voice her contempt for the bill by stating that the FCC is abdicating its responsibilities.
“I dissent, because I am among the millions outraged, outraged because the F.C.C. pulls its own teeth, abdicating responsibility to protect the nation’s broadband consumers.”
Perhaps the most damning accusation against the Restoring Internet Freedom Order is that it could harshly affect internet accessibility for those who use it to promote a cause. In a recent Vox article, Aja Romano expressed the idea that the end of net neutrality could help to marginalize communities that already struggle with marginalization. The concern is that those who use things like social media to send a message might be restricted by ISPs eager to curtail that kind of speech. Romano goes on to explain that similar circumstances occurred during the 2011 Arab Spring when the Egyptian government worked to censor certain websites, and the Turkish government managed to block Twitter altogether.
The fight for net neutrality is still on, however. According to an article written by Russell Brandom and Ali Robertson on the Verge, lawmakers are already pushing to invalidate Ajit Pai’s new ruling on the grounds that it may be illegal. Additionally, Congress has the ability to overturn the FCC’s decision under the Congressional Review Act, though this would likely be a difficult method of repeal due to the current Republican Congressional majority.
It is difficult to know what the future will hold for the FCC’s most recent order. While some are hopeful that the internet will remain unrestricted, only time will tell if internet service providers will begin to abuse their power and instate a much more regulated world wide web.