Today the Federal Communications Commission voted to reclassify internet providers from utilities to information companies. This apparently simple act undoes years of bipartisan agreement on the concept of net neutrality as the guiding principle behind internet rules. Commissioner Ajit Pai, a former Verizon attorney appointed to his position by President Trump, has been relentless and single-minded over the past months in pursuing his goal, which is at best misguided and at worst deeply craven.
You’ve probably already heard a lot about why this reclassification is a truly terrible idea. I’ll just underline the perspective from New Music USA. Our constituency includes thousands and thousands of independent artists. We believe that the internet provides an absolutely indispensable tool for creating, distributing, and promoting the amazing array of musics that make this a potentially golden age for our sector. In a culture that so inattentively leaves the playing field so unlevel for artists, at least a neutral internet gives us a fighting chance to advance our work on the same terms as anyone else.
So who is actually in favor of this reclassification, this repeal of net neutrality? Very few, and (surprise!) they’re big corporations who stand to make billions of dollars off a newly unequal internet. Who’s against? Pretty much everyone else. Surveys show that more than 80% of Americans support net neutrality, and more than one million people called Congress in the last month alone, asking their representatives to save it. In a climate of deep and troubling divisions in our country, 80% (that’s eight-zero) agreement stands out as virtual unanimity. I’ve been truly moved the see the images of protests from all over the country, with ordinary people exercising their right to speak out and speak up for themselves. This is the country I want to live in.
If there’s good news here, it’s this: The FCC currently has the authority to do what it has just done. But Congress can step in and pass legislation that repairs the damage. There’s broad support for doing so. Lawmakers from all sides weighed in with letters to Chairman Pai asking him to delay the Commission’s vote: 39 Democrats and Independents signed onto one letter; Republican Senator Susan Collins joined another; Republican Representative Mike Coffman sent one of his own; not to mention the mountains of letters like this one from 32 House Democrats going all the way back to April.
There’s truly broad concern about the FCC action. And in that concern lies real hope to save the precious quality of an internet that’s equal for all.