Ten months into his presidency, Donald Trump has yet to score a satisfying win in the weirdly personal campaign he has been waging against Barack Obama, his predecessor in the White House. There was, to name just one example, the infamous half-assed, first-week-in-office ban on Muslim travelers to the United States. The implication of which, of course, was that Obama had been soft on Islamist terrorists in his eight years in office. Trump would be tough on terror, tough on Muslims, tough on Obama. Outdoing Obama by undoing the man’s legacy has been a tenet of the Trump presidency since Trump was sworn in January.
Trump’s next big chance to undermine Obama is fast approaching– or is it?
In March, the Trump administration “strongly supported” a repeal of internet privacy protections that would stop requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to get permission before gathering or sharing an individual’s data. Now, during the summer months, our Twitter-intensive president has set his sights on net neutrality.
Net neutrality is the free speech fight of our generation
The Federal Communications Commission adopted net neutrality during the Obama administration. Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs and governments must treat all data on the web the same, not discriminating by user, content, website, application, or type of device. In practice, it prevents internet service providers, like Spectrum or Verizon, from throttling connection speeds or blocking competitors’ and other websites.
Those whose views align with Trump’s pick for FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, see net neutrality as a vaguely defined term which places unfair restrictions on major ISPs. But supporters believe net neutrality is a necessity precisely because it denies competitive advantages (e.g., faster speeds) to big ISPs, and preserves a safe, fair, and equal opportunity for small and start-up ISPs to offer access to the internet.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation is among internet activist groups who have been fighting to make sure the rules established in 2014 by the Obama administration continue. According to Corynne McSherry, EFF’s legal director, “The internet was built on the simple but powerful idea that while you may need to pay a service provider for internet access, that provider doesn’t get to shape what you access—or who has access to you.” Dismantling these rules, McSherry continued, “could transform this extraordinary engine for civic discourse into something more like cable TV, where providers and content owners bargain over what content will be available at full-speed and what will be throttled.”
“The free speech fight of our generation.” That’s how Evan Greer, the campaign director of Fight for the Future, another internet activist group, described the fight for net neutrality. “The free and open internet has given more people a voice than ever before. If we lose net neutrality, big cable companies like Comcast and Verizon will have total control over what we can see and do online. It will have a detrimental effect on the economy, harm marginalized communities and communities of color, and rob the internet of so much creativity and freedom of expression.”
Trump’s internet policy: a massive blow to millennials
If Trump and FCC chairman Pai have their way, AT&T, Spectrum, and other powerful ISPs will flow at top speed while hindering customers with other providers from accessing the whole internet and slowing speeds of smaller providers, specifically wireless video streaming providers such as Snapchat or YouTube.
The FCC is now a couple of weeks past the August 30 deadline it had set to review the record 22 million comments filed by members of the public to its “Restoring Internet Freedom” initiative, the Trump administration’s policy proposal that would do away with net neutrality and the essential freedoms it guarantees.
It’s unclear why the FCC has gone silent on the subject. According to the Washington Post, more than 60 percent of the comments the agency received are against its plan to reverse the Obama-era regulations. And Ars Technica recently cited a study by internet service providers that found the actual number of those opposing Trump and the FCC to be at 98.5% after excluding spam and form letters. For all we know, the FCC’s drive to “restore the internet from the “1930s-era utility-style regulation” may have hit a roadblock, perhaps even a dead-end. We can only hope so.
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But what exactly are the regulations that Trump’s FCC is planning to undo? The agency says the rules in question refer to the Communications Act of 1934, but most importantly, Title II, the section of the law that defines “common carriers” and how they are allowed to conduct business. Under the Obama administration’s framework, Title II would supersede the Telecommunications Act of 1996 which gave the FCC and state commissions “regulatory jurisdiction” over internet access and online freedoms. Now President Trump and Pai say they want to go back to the 1996 law. Title II, they argue, hampers “online investment and innovation, threatening the very open internet it purported to preserve.”
That’s hogwash. Trump’s proposed internet policy is irresponsibly dangerous. And the FCC must immediately drop the so-called “Restoring Internet Freedom” initiative. Crippling net neutrality regulations would be a massive blow to those who make a livelihood out of publishing content on wireless video services like YouTube, specifically millennials. This summer, 130 YouTube content creators signed a protest letter to the FCC, an excerpt from which explains that “Net neutrality has been crucial to maintaining a level playing field for all creators, from those with tens of millions of subscribers to those with 12 subscribers.”
We must speak out in favor of net neutrality.
If adopted, Trump’s proposed policy will severely impact those who already have established careers as YouTube and Snapchat personalities, and stop others from attempting similar careers. Not only that, but it will also strongly discourage millennials, the next generation of innovators and creators, from creating their own platforms and applications in a market that is no longer possible to compete in. This will effectively remove the idea of a free market, free speech, and innovation through the internet and allow the big providers to have an undisputed monopoly.
We will have to wait and see whether or not the public outrage has had any significant impact on the FCC’s decision to undo or preserve the Obama administration’s net neutrality rules. But we must continue to make our voices heard. We must speak out in favor of net neutrality. Let’s all join forces to keep the internet as a platform where small providers and startups are on an equal playing field with large providers like Comcast, Spectrum, AT&T, and Verizon. The future of our generation depends on it.
VIDEO PRIMER: NET NEUTRALITY, EXPLAINED