Net Neutrality

By Lori Swanson

December 26th, 2017

I will be filing a lawsuit with some of my colleagues from other states asking the court to overturn the Federal Communication Commission’s repeal of the “net neutrality” rules that guarantee a free and open internet.  Net neutrality is essential for consumers and an informed electorate.

Background.  The internet is an important part of daily life.  Each day, tens of millions of Americans go online to shop, communicate, work, and stay informed.  

For years, we have counted on a free and open internet—where service providers don’t get to dictate the online content that reaches our homes and workplaces.  In 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reinforced these expectations with “net neutrality” regulations[1]

The net neutrality rules say that all internet traffic should be treated equally by internet companies.  The rules prohibited internet companies like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon from blocking or slowing down online content or creating “fast lanes” for companies that pay them money.  In 2016, the courts upheld the legality of these rules[2].  

Earlier this month, the FCC—led by a former Verizon attorney—voted 3-2 to repeal the net neutrality rules for internet providers[3]. Public reports indicate that as many as 2 million comments filed with the FCC ostensibly in support of net neutrality repeal may have been submitted using stolen identities[4], with as many as 500,000 fake comments reportedly linked to Russian addresses[5].  The Pew Research Center found that 94 percent of these comments were submitted multiple times and that the name of the commentator was “The Internet” 7,400 times[6].

Net neutrality matters.  Without net neutrality, broadband companies are free to block content they don’t want you to see, to slow it down and make it harder to access, or to prioritize content based on who pays them money.  Mega corporations can dominate the content people see online by paying money to obtain faster speeds.  This will make it more difficult and more expensive for consumers to access the content they want.  Many commentators predict that internet companies will adopt the business model of the cable companies, which charge consumers more to access popular programs.

But this isn’t just a consumer protection issue—it’s a democracy protection issue too.  Tens of millions of Americans now get at least some of their news online.  We see corporate conglomerates buy up media companies.  AT&T has announced plans to buy Time Warner, which operates CNN[7], and the Koch Brothers are bankrolling an acquisition of Time Magazine[8].  Without net neutrality, internet companies can control what content to make prominent or to obscure, including by promoting sites they own or favor.  This will influence the information to which voters and the public have access and will impact elections.  Think of the role the internet played in the Arab Spring.

Next Steps.  Senator Al Franken deserves enormous credit for his bulldog defense of equal access to the internet.  In the face of lawsuits like ours to stop the repeal of net neutrality, many people believe that Congress might try to pass a law next year to cement the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality.  If you share my concerns, I hope you will consider contacting your members of Congress to let them know that you support an internet that is free, fair, open, and accessible by everyone.