Monday marked the official repeal of net neutrality rules, which were initially passed by the Obama administration in 2015 to ensure everyone had equal access to any and all content on the internet. But now, internet service providers are no longer required to provide their users with that equal access, a move that has angered advocates of an open internet.
The original legislation treated internet access as if it were a utility, like phone service or electricity, and required that internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T treat all internet content and data equally. This meant, previously, your internet provider couldn't charge you more for using some sites than others, couldn't slow down your internet speed on certain sites, and couldn't block sites they don't like.
In December 2017, the Federal Communications Commission, led by Trump-appointee Ajit Pai, voted 3-2 to repeal net neutrality, effective June 11. The repeal, which faced heavy opposition from the tech community and Democrats alike, reflected the Trump administration's belief that deregulation of business results in a stronger economy.
Pai said the FCC went beyond its scope when it set up internet providers as Title II "common carriers." He has defended the repeal — which reclassifies them as Title I "information service carriers" — as a measure to help promote competition among internet providers. Increased competition and innovation, he argues, will eventually help reduce costs for consumers.
In May, the Senate passed a measure to protect net neutrality rules, collecting yes votes from all 49 Democrats as well as three Republican senators. Last week, dozens of senators sent a letter to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, urging him to bring the measure for vote in the House. A spokeswoman for Ryan's office declined to comment when reporters asked about the letter on Thursday.
The debate around net neutrality roughly falls along party lines. Democratic proponents of net neutrality argue that regulation ensures equal and uncensored access to information, and allows small companies a level playing field on which to compete with internet giants like Netflix or Hulu.
But Pai and other net neutrality detractors counter that internet providers face the strain of having to provide equal service for these giants, which regularly move huge amounts of data. Under net neutrality, providers are expected to match the internet speed between these sites and those with much lower traffic. Critics say the repeal will allow providers to charge these big websites for their usage (which, for instance, might translate to a higher Netflix subscription cost).
In the months following the repeal vote, the issue of net neutrality has come to represent a debate over information censorship and democratic ideals, rather than an economic issue. Galvanized by public opposition, 20 states filed a lawsuit against the FCC in January, and several states including New York, Massachusetts, Washington, and California, have proposed their own state bills to preserve net neutrality.
Given the legal entanglements and conflicting proposed legislation, experts say it is unlikely that the repeal of net neutrality will result in any changes right away. Even so, the net neutrality advocacy coalition Battle for the Net says "the fight has just begun." Joined by dozens of companies and organizations, including Reddit, Twitter, and Netflix, the ACLU Battle for the Net and others provide numerous strategies for individuals looking to preserve net neutrality.
Here are a few suggestions on what to do from net neutrality activists:
Flood your congresspeople with calls and emails — Use the ACLU's representative contact form to message your House representative, or call them with this handy tool. Urge them to sign on to a "discharge petition" that will force the House to vote on the Senate bill passed last month, the Congressional Review Act (CRA). If you're able to, talk to your lawmaker in person! Find out who your representatives are here.
If your representative supports the repeal, call them out — Battle for the Net created a handy search tool to find out your representative's stance in the issue, along with "wanted" posters to help constituents call them out on social media.
Write a letter to the editor of your local paper — Share the word with your community by writing an article in favor of net neutrality. Use Free Press' guide to get started.
Use your internet presence to advocate — Battle for the Net has a collection of social media avatars, graphics, and video bumpers for you to integrate into your profiles and blogs to spread the word. You can even embed their "contact Congress" widget into your own website to help more voices get heard.
Petition small businesses to support the CRA — Battle for the Net created an open letter to Congress for you to sign and share with other businesses. The petition helped in getting CRA passed by the Senate, and activists are hoping to do the same with the House.
Find (or host) a protest — Support "Team Internet" in person by joining or starting a protest to express your opinion publicly.
If the Senate Congressional Review Act bill doesn't come to a vote in the House this year, it will die before Congress reconvenes in 2019. Even while many internet providers have pledged not to selectively throttle internet speeds, as long as the fate of net neutrality is still unknown, advocacy groups are unlikely to back down.