Come 14 December, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will drop the hammer on the Obama-era net neutrality rules. There will be a vote, but this is no cliff-hanger. There will be no drama - it’s just a formality. This is despite many millions of Americans writing in support of maintaining the rules. The easy answer is partisan power politics.
So it was in 2015 when net neutrality rules were adopted. So it is now. It was never about the average citizen/internet user. Big business reigns supreme over the political process, regardless of party affiliation. It wins no matter which party is in power.
Democrats would have you believe that the rollback is a gift to big business - those bankrollers of the Republican party. They won’t mention that on the other side of the net neutrality fight are the ’’small fry” like Netflix, Google and the like, who pander to and open their wallets for the Democrats. Historically, Democrats are the regulators, while the GOP are the deregulators.
By portraying deregulation, in the form of dismantling net neutrality, as a bonanza for big business, and concealing the hit taken by some of the biggest businesses (see above), the supporters of net neutrality avoid debating the issue on its merits and devolve into demagoguery, where they are comfortable. This has been an established pattern with net neutrality since its inception.
The Republicans have been salivating for the moment when they once again hold sway over the FCC, so they could overturn what they consider to be Obama’s odious, ill-timed, and ill-conceived net neutrality rules. Donald Trump won. End of story. He campaigned against net neutrality, as did many other Republicans. In the GOP primaries, Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) famously decried it as ’’Obama-care for the internet.”
It’s also not surprising in light of the GOP reclaiming the White House and holding a majority of both chambers of Congress - and, some would argue, now the Supreme Court as well, given Neil Gorsuch’s appointment - that they are reversing the rules. Gorsuch's appointment also puts the kibosh on pro-net neutrality advocates successfully challenging the dismantling in the courts. Not only is the Supreme Court now leaning to the right, but there is no good legal reason to take this route.
After all, emails submitted in defense of net neutrality are not legislation. Sadly, nor really are Presidential directives. Obama used these to bypass Congress - preferring the ease of making policies with a pen and a phone. Trump is now simply and easily reversing these policies with impunity. Live by the pen, die by the pen. Sadly, it's not always mightier than the sword.
In this internet era of fake news and bots, it's difficult to gauge what is genuine public sentiment and what is artificially generated outrage or support. Both political parties are apparently guilty of deceit. The degree of voters' dismay over this varies based on their political persuasion.
Pai’s people point out, to counter claims that many emails in favor of dismantling net neutrality were falsely generated, that millions of pro-net neutrality emails were also bogus. They maintain a scammer co-opted names and addresses to resend some 7.5 million emails with an identical message. Whether or not this is true is immaterial. It’s plausible, and in this environment, that’s all that matters. The FCC isn't required to follow public opinion. Pai just cites public opinion when it suits him.
Alas, if the mountains of protest letters and thousands of consumer complaints are, in Pai’s words “…informal complaints that, in most instances, have not been verified," then net neutrality is indeed doomed. The hope is that things will continue to evolve as they did before net neutrality came into existence - that the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will not price gouge, throttle and behave prejudicially.
One reason for optimism is that the market itself will take care of wrongdoers. Comcast would lose customers if, for example, it only allowed those customers to see MSNBC (Comcast’s sister company) for news. It’s not much to hang one’s hat on, but what else can one do if the FCC is going to ignore the majority of Americans and proceed with the wrecking ball in the next couple of weeks?
Opinions are the writer's own.