No act of the recklessly authoritarian Trump administration poses a greater threat to the democratic discourse than the now-announced plan to gut net-neutrality rules. With newspapers dying, radio syndicated, broadcast television commercialized beyond relevance, and cable television mired in scandal and dead-end punditry, the Internet is the essential tool for the communication of ideas and the mobilization of those who choose to resist the autocratic impulses of Trump and his crony-capitalist cabal.
So it should come as no surprise that Trump and his Federal Communications Commission chairman, Ajit Pai, wants to throttle net neutrality—the First Amendment of the Internet that guarantees equal protection for all voices in the digital universe where we now live. At a closed-door meeting in Washington Wednesday, Pai outlined what The New York Times described as “a sweeping plan to loosen the government’s oversight of high-speed internet providers, a rebuke of a landmark policy approved two years ago to ensure that all online content is treated the same by the companies that deliver broadband service to Americans.”
Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps warned that, “By reopening the FCC’s historic 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC is jeopardizing core protections for online free speech and competition. Chairman Pai appears more interested in currying favor with cable and telecom industry lobbyists than in serving the millions of Americans who wrote and called to urge the commission, during the original rule-making, to provide strong protections against online blocking, throttling, or censorship.”
“Chairman Pai is kissing the ring of the Big Money lobbyists who too often call the shots in the Trump Administration,” declared Copps, who now works with Common Cause and other groups seeking to defend an open Internet. “Ending net neutrality would be a body blow to the open dialogue upon which successful self-government depends. It would be a red light for democracy and a green light for cable and telecom giants to control where we go and what we do on the internet.”
Yet there can be no question the Trump administration is preparing to deliver that body blow. Experts and activists agree what the change Trump’s man at the FCC proposes would “dismantle the legal framework essential to maintaining Net Neutrality…[and] try to replace the FCC’s rules with voluntary agreements by internet service providers [that] have a long history of undermining the open internet.” Under the Pai plan, the Times explains, “high-speed internet service should no longer be treated like a public utility with strict rules, as it is now. Instead, he said, the industry should largely be left to police itself.”