The last thing Americans need during the holidays is more stress about politics, but that’s what they’re getting from President Donald Trump’s administration.
Now more than ever, the public must stay engaged and ensure their voices are heard as the administration continues its relentless bulldozing of policies and rules protecting the public.
The latest is Federal Communications Chairman Ajit Pai’s noxious proposal to erase net-neutrality protections established in 2015. Pai unveiled his plan last Tuesday, and it may be approved at the Republican-controlled FCC’s Dec. 14 meeting.
The existing rules are essential in ensuring that the small but powerful group of companies that function as internet gatekeepers do not prioritize, throttle, block or discriminate against any information delivered by their networks. The rules have broad support; millions of Americans set records for public participation on this issue.
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Net neutrality champion U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, said Washingtonians can play a role in opposing this rollback.
Cantwell, who tried to block Pai’s appointment, is encouraging residents and especially the business community to tell the FCC why they need the certainty and level playing field that net-neutrality rules provide.
“I don’t think they have a deep understanding about the level of connectivity of service that exists today and what even a small slowdown could do,” she said of net-neutrality opponents on the FCC.
The perspective of small to mid-size businesses is especially needed. Their stories should be shared with Cantwell and other policymakers as well to help make the case in Congress.
Pai, a former Verizon lawyer and Trump’s choice for FCC chairman, wrongly characterizes net-neutrality rules as an effort to micromanage business.
It was a major shift initially to classify broadband as an essential service needing government oversight, but the rules were lightly applied and restrictions on blocking content were already in place.
Broadband companies still fought the rules in court and lost, but now the FCC is granting their wishes. If Pai succeeds, there’s likely to be another lawsuit.
If anyone is micromanaging the communications sector it’s Trump. His administration is removing roadblocks to help an ally, Sinclair Broadcasting, acquire Tribune Media while simultaneously fighting AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner, which includes the CNN network that Trump so dislikes.
States, meanwhile, are trying to restore some of the consumer and business protections that are being stripped away in Washington, D.C.
State-level net-neutrality rules are well intentioned but may be problematic — interstate services need federal regulation. There is, however, a strong case for states to extend their consumer-protection laws to online services.
State Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, has a straightforward privacy-protection proposal that would require phone and internet companies to get customer consent before collecting their personal information. It died in a Senate committee during the last legislative session, despite bipartisan support, but should receive consideration in 2018.
Like Cantwell, Ranker believes this is an area where Washington can show leadership and build a coalition to restore consumer protections that are being chipped away by the feds.
Politics and broadband regulations aren’t the first priority during the holidays. But the FCC and lawmakers need to hear, soon, why net-neutrality rules must be retained.