From The NationThis cannot be the end of a free and open Internet. Activists must fight on in the courts, in Congress, and in the streets.
The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to eliminate "the First Amendment of the Internet," and in so doing it delivered the Trump administration's most brutal blow yet to democracy in America.
Despite overwhelming public support for a free and open Internet, the CFC's Trump-aligned majority engineered a 3-2 vote to overturn net-neutrality rules that have required Internet service providers to treat all online communications equally -- and, in a related move, the commission majority rejected the authority of the FCC to protect a free and open Internet. Commission chair Ajit Pai, the telecommunications-industry lawyer who has done Donald Trump's bidding in debates on a host of media and democracy issues, has cleared the way for service providers to establish information superhighways for political and corporate elites, while consigning communications from grassroots activists to digital dirt roads.
Addressing the American people on the day when the FCC dismissed millions of appeals on behalf of net neutrality, dissenting Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said Thursday: "What saddens me is that the agency that is supposed to protect you is abandoning you."
Pai and his associates have moved to create what former FCC commissioner Michael Copps refers to as "a gatekeeper's paradise," where "our civic dialogue -- the news and information upon which a successful self-governing society depends upon -- would be further eroded."
"Telecom and media consolidation have wreaked havoc with investigative journalism and turned political campaigns into a crass reality show and our 'news' into bottom-feeding infotainment," warns Copps, who now works with Common Cause on media and democracy issues.
"I don't believe democracy can survive on such thin gruel. Throw in [the fact] that we, the people, will be paying ever-more exorbitant prices for this constricted future and you will understand why so many millions of people all across the land have contacted the FCC and Congress telling them to preserve our current net-neutrality rules."
Much of the debate about overturning net neutrality has been focused on the damage the move will do to consumers, and there can be no question that clearing the way for unprecedented profiteering by telecommunications corporations barters off our digital future to the same grifters who have turned broadcast- and cable-media platforms into vast wastelands of commercial excess. "ISPs want to turn the internet into cable," says Congressman Ro Khanna (D-CA). "[They] want people to pay for every application."
But the biggest cost of eliminating net neutrality will be to the American experiment in citizen-driven dialogue, discourse, and decision making. New York Mayor Bill de Blasio says:
"The internet makes it easier for people to get organized and amplify their voices. Ending Net Neutrality will make it harder for the people to fight powerful interests."
That assessment was confirmed by activists who rallied outside the FCC headquarters Thursday. "You don't have the modern day anti-police violence movement without the open Internet," said editor and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux. "Saving the Net is a civil rights issue that effects Asian Americans across the US," said Deepa Iyer, a senior fellow with the Center for Social Inclusion. Symone Sanders, who served as press secretary for the 2016 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign and is now a CNN commentator, said: "There is no resistance without a free and open Internet."
Describing net neutrality as a racial-justice, social-justice, and economic-justice issue, Congressman Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, explained that "A free and open Internet allows us to organize and resist. We need that now more than ever."
Ellison is right. Those who would resist the Trump administration's most authoritarian and anti-democratic instincts -- on issues ranging from voter suppression to freedom of the press to civil rights and civil liberties -- have used a free and open Internet to organize throughout 2017. They will need to continue to do so in 2018 and beyond.