A federal appeals court just killed critically important government protections against discrimination online; the giant Internet service providers (ISPs) — Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner Cable — now have total control over what information we can access on the web.
It’s a nightmare scenario, and one the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has long seen coming. A self-imposed, Bush-era rule restricting the agency’s ability to regulate broadband foreshadowed the court’s finding this week that ISPs no longer have to treat all web users equally — they can block websites, slow down services, and double- and triple-dip in charging extra fees to restore access.
But we have the power to stop this. By raising our voices together, we can ensure the FCC has the political will to act on its authority to reverse a decade of failed Internet policy — and the courage to stand up to an industry that has pushed it around for too long.
The Internet is an essential service we rely on to conduct our most basic daily affairs, from applying for a job to finding a home to running a small business. And our right to communicate freely and be heard lies at the heart of our ability to participate fairly in our democracy.
ColorOfChange has been at the forefront of efforts to protect our ability to communicate freely online since we fought to enshrine rigorous FCC Net Neutrality rules in 2010. Real Net Neutrality ensures ISPs and content companies can’t collude to turn the democratic Internet into corporate-controlled cable TV, full of restrictions, limits on consumer choice, and toll stations designed to maximize their profits at our expense. In the wake of this week’s ruling, Net Neutrality is dead.
Imagine Comcast penalizing subscribers for accessing news sources not owned by its NBC subsidiary. Imagine AT&T shutting off access to T-Mobile’s customer service website. Verizon charging you — and the school you’re attending — extra for you to access classroom resources online. ISPs are now legally permitted, and more financially incentivized than ever before, to engage in precisely these types of predatory behaviors.
It doesn’t have to be this way. The court agreed the FCC has the power, bestowed by Congress, to regulate ISPs’ business practices — if only the agency can rethink its conflicting, overly restrictive internal rules. Chairman Wheeler has clear direction that it’s time to reclassify broadband companies as common carriers, affording the public the same anti-discrimination protections we all enjoy when making a phone call, using electricity, or taking public transportation.