This commonsense legislation ensures that all information is equally accessible online
by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Editorial Board
The restoration of net neutrality rules — controversially rescinded by the Federal Communications Commission two years ago — should be a no-brainer for Congress. Thanks to a bill authored by Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, such a reality may soon be in hand.
Net neutrality is the idea that internet service providers should treat all data they process the same. Particular websites, apps or services should not be offered preferential treatment for speed or availability. This concept had been codified in the 2015 Open Internet Order, a law that was debated, discussed and refined over more than a decade.
But current FCC Chairman Ajit Pai spearheaded a successful effort to overturn the rules in 2017, arguing that regulation of the internet was limiting innovation and growth. The move was met with widespread criticism from the general public and technical experts.
A poll taken by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation at the time of the repeal found that 83 percent of voters supported net neutrality. That included 89 percent of Democrats, 75 percent of Republicans and 86 percent of Independents.
Meanwhile, technical evidence contradicting Mr. Pai’s claims that net neutrality limited internet growth, submitted by hundreds of computer scientists and advocacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was ignored.
What’s more, evidence emerged that the public comment period on Mr. Pai’s proposal had been tampered with. Hundreds of thousands of comments arguing against net neutrality were found to have been made using stolen names and addresses.
It seems clear that objective data and widespread public opinion were deliberately swept aside when Mr. Pai moved ahead with the repeal of the FCC’s net neutrality rules.
But now, Mr. Doyle’s Save the Internet Act is attempting to restore those same rules, meant to, as Mr. Doyle describes it, “put a cop back on the beat to protect consumers, small business and competitors from unjust and unreasonable practice by internet service providers.”
This commonsense legislation would recodify an ethical practice that protects consumers from corporate malfeasance and ensures that all information is equally accessible online, without fear of internet service providers limiting access.
“Opponents of this legislation need to ask themselves, what are the unjust and unreasonable practices that they want ISPs to be allowed to engage in, and why would we want to allow such practices,” Mr. Doyle said in a public statement.
Mr. Doyle’s bill still faces an up-hill battle. Though it was recently approved by the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, it must still clear a broader House vote and the Senate, and the president must be willing to sign it. Analysts fear that the notorious influence of telecommunications companies in Washington could be an insurmountable roadblock along that path.
There are back-up plans, such as a lawsuit filed against the FCC by 22 state attorneys general, including Pennsylvania’s Josh Shapiro.
But it would be far more meaningful for Congress, which is supposed to reflect the will of people, to restore net neutrality. It is a sound policy with widespread support and there is no good reason it should not be in place.