Why Congress Must Prioritize Restoring Net Neutrality

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It has been 18 months since Joe Biden was sworn in as president. Yet restoring the crucial net neutrality rules that are the foundation of an open internet continues to languish in Washington.

The problem stems from the failure of Democratic lawmakers to confirm Biden’s nominee, Gigi Sohn, for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. It is needed to break the 2-2 deadlock over the FCC which continues to block action on net neutrality and broadband privacy regulations.

Now, Democrats in Congress say they plan to introduce new legislation that would not only restore net neutrality rules, but also give the FCC greater ability to protect consumer privacy and competition on the Internet. broadband market. Passing strong net neutrality legislation cannot come too soon.

Net neutrality is the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Tech pioneers including Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf have long advocated that Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should not be able to pick winners and losers online, creating an Internet that looks like the cable television industry. Consumer advocates argue that providers should be required to provide equal access to all sites and apps at the same speed. Democrats, independents and Republicans agree. Polls consistently show that 75% of Americans support net neutrality rules.

Ajit Pai, President Trump’s former FCC chairman, argued that a “lightweight, market-based approach” would allow consumers to access faster average internet speeds. In 2018, Pai abandoned the strict net neutrality rules put in place by Tom Wheeler, chairman of President Barack Obama’s FCC.

But giving carte blanche to broadband providers such as Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile and Comcast allows them to rake in billions while serving as kingmakers. They have the power to pick winners and losers online by charging content providers and users higher rates for faster service. It stifles innovation. Startups simply don’t have the funding to compete, which makes it less attractive for users to upload their content.

It also threatens basic services. The Santa Clara County Fire Department learned that hard lesson in 2018 when it was called in to help fight the Mendocino Complex Fire, the third largest wildfire on record in the history of the city. California. Verizon admitted to throttling the fire department’s internet connection to two-hundredths of normal speed, despite being told it was hampering firefighting efforts. Verizon offered to restore normal service if the department accepted a plan for three times the amount of its monthly plan.

Verizon officials later admitted they made a mistake in throttling in an emergency situation, but the incident illustrates the potential consequences of allowing broadband providers to act at will.

Democrats are expected to force a Senate vote on Sohn’s nomination for FCC chairman. And Congress should quickly pass legislation that would ensure the FCC provides consumers with basic broadband protections that guarantee an open Internet.

—The East Bay Times

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