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How Trump Plans to Slow Our Internet to a Crawl

Dial-Up Speeds for Us, Lightning Fast for Big Corporations

In Brief
You thought ‘net neutrality’ was a done deal. Trump’s new FCC chairman wants to let big companies charge more for their content, turning the information superhighway into a toll road.

Net-neutrality political event in Austria, 2016. Photo byJean-Frederic

Donald Trump wants you to pay more for your Internet, either in money for high-speed service or by forcing you into an Internet traffic jam where pages load with all the speed of a rush hour commute after a traffic accident.

That’s what could happen under the new Trump-appointed chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai.

Pai, a former attorney for telecom and Internet behemoth Verizon, has already undone recent FCC actions that helped consumers. The FCC recently blocked nine companies from providing cheap Internet to the poor.  Pai called that “might regulation,” evidently under the theory that outgoing presidents have only limited powers after each election, a position not found in our Constitution.

The agency also halted investigations into Verizon, AT&T, Comcast and T-Mobile favoring services affiliated with their companies.

But what Pai most wants is to eliminate net neutrality rules that prevent providers from blocking or slowing internet traffic. (For a great explanation of the issues, see John Oliver’s acclaimed take on the subject.)

Pai has also opposed the Obama administration’s decision to regulate broadband service as a utility. The Obama administration saw access to the Internet as service like electricity or the telephone that all Americans should have, not a luxury for the well-heeled.

ACTION BOX / What you can do about it

Write: Office of the Secretary, Federal Communications Commission at 445 12th St SW, Washington, DC 20554.  The toll-free phone number for the commission is 1-888-CALL FCC or call  202-418-1000. Write or call. Don’t email. They ignore emails.

Call your Representative and two Senators. Find their numbers here.   Tell them what you think of Ajit Pai’s plans for net neutrality and other industry-friendly changes to communications rules. If there’s a busy signal, keep trying. Once you get through, you can leave a message.

These rules treat the Internet as a common carrier, just like telephone lines where the owners have no interest in what the content of communications is, only in making sure that all move on an equal basis.

“The net neutrality rules provide the essential foundation for expanding access, protecting consumers and their privacy and promoting competitive choice,” says digital-rights advocate Kate Forscey, a Washington attorney.

Undoing net neutrality rules could mean that Internet providers could deliver some content on the Internet at slower speeds or block it.  Internet providers could create fast and slow lanes. Comcast, which owns NBC, could let its shows from NBC, MSNBC, CNBC, the Golf Channel and its movie studio move smoothly to your television or computer, while those from competitors like Disney-owned ABC might pixelate and sputter electronically.

Those equal-treatment rules were upheld in a landmark federal court case after a trade association, the United States Telecom Association, sued the FCC in 2015.  Pai criticized that decision, saying he believed the regulations were unlawful.

A 2016 FCC report found that 34 million people, or 10% of the country, don’t have access to high-speed Internet.  That includes 23 million rural Americans, the equivalent of 13 smaller states that voted Republican in the election.

In December, Pai said the FCC needs to “fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation.”

Groups that have opposed net neutrality rules are heavily funded by internet providers.

February 7, 2017