Call to Action: Urge Your Congressional Representatives to Uphold Net Neutrality and Protect Freedom on the Internet

Posted on June 20, 2017

Since the election, President Trump’s team of policymakers has been moving forward with plans to reverse FCC net neutrality policies implemented by President Obama, which would deal a critical blow to internet freedom. With its vote on May 18, 2017 to begin the repeal process, and the conclusion of the initial public comment submission period, the FCC, under the leadership of Trump ally Chairman Ajit Pai, has entered the final phase of Trump’s plan to strip the agency’s vital consumer protection power.

However, as the FCC has not yet finalized its policy regarding net neutrality, and the agency is ultimately bound by laws passed in Congress, citizens concerned about the present threat to a free and open internet have the opportunity to act and make their voices heard.  CCDBR’s historic advocacy of free expression extends, in the digital era, to support for the classification of internet service providers (ISPs) as “common carrier” utility companies under FCC Title II in order for the agency to enforce net neutrality regulations, and calls upon its members, supporters, and fellow citizens to contact their representatives in both houses of Congress and urge them to affirm the protections afforded by net neutrality.

As the enforcement of net neutrality is a complex issue, we at CCDBR would like to briefly outline the issue’s key points and important developments in the debate for anyone considering contacting their representatives.

What is net neutrality?

Net neutrality is the principle that ISPs and other telecommunications providers such as cell phone carriers should not be allowed to selectively alter or manipulate the speed, bandwidth, or total traffic allowance that users enjoy when accessing certain websites or internet-based services. This is because such selective manipulation effectively prioritizes the speed or ease of access to certain internet players rather than others, which creates unfair competition and, in effect, diminished user choice. Such manipulation comes in the form of (among others) slower loading times for targeted websites or exemptions in cellular browsing data caps for favored services, and is usually undertaken to create a better user experience or financial incentive for costumers to use the services belonging to their business partners. 

Why is net neutrality important?

First and foremost, net neutrality prevents ISPs and telecom companies from throttling or otherwise inhibiting traffic to websites or services which do not align with their business interests, which is an indispensable safeguard for protecting freedom of expression on the internet. This is especially crucial considering that the majority of Americans live in areas where there is a monopoly or effective monopoly on broadband internet providers, making any traffic manipulation they may engage in that much harder to circumvent. The threat of such manipulation is not theoretical, as large ISPs and telecoms have altered traffic to implement non-competitive practices, such when one major cellular carrier forced customers to use Apple’s FaceTime video calling application over their cellular network when WiFi connections were available. 

More significantly, net neutrality also guarantees the integrity and security of encrypted connections. In order to selectively manipulate some connections while leaving others unaltered, ISPs and telecoms have to see what data is being transmitted to and from a user’s device, which they are prevented from doing when the user’s connections are encrypted. Before the initial adoption of net neutrality rules in 2015, there were documented cases in which, in order to selectively alter the rate of internet traffic, an ISP stripped out the encryption to users’ email accounts, putting sensitive email login credentials and messages at risk to malicious hacking or government surveillance. 

How can I submit a public comment?

UPDATE: As the initial filing period is now closed, we strongly encourage those supporting net neutrality to instead contact their representatives in Congress directly.

You can submit a comment through the FCC website on the page listing the proceeding under consideration, Proceeding 17-108 “Restoring Internet Freedom.” Once at the Proceedings page, click on “Express” in the box containing the entry for the “Restoring Internet Freedom” proceeding. The public comment submission page will then come up, and should have the proceeding number (17-108) automatically included at the top of the comment form. 

What do I need to know when submitting a public comment?

UPDATE: As the initial filing period is now closed, we strongly encourage those supporting net neutrality to instead contact their representatives in Congress directly.

To start with, Ars Technica has published a useful guide on how to compose a comment that the FCC is more likely to consider. 

In his announcement of his intention to abolish net neutrality, Chairman Pai outlined a number of arguments which he claimed link reversal of the Obama-era net neutrality policy with improved internet browsing experience, but which are demonstrably misleading, if not factually unsupported. Here are some key details that supporters of net neutrality who wish to submit a public comment can, and should, point out.

Chairman Pai’s main argument is that Title II is both heavy-handed and unnecessary to effectively mandate consumer-protecting regulations on ISPs. This statement is extremely dubious, as a court ruled in 2014, before ISPs were classified under Title II, that the FCC had no grounds to enforce net neutrality protections precisely because ISPs were not considered “common carriers” under Title II, and were therefore beyond the FCC’s regulatory purview.

Another unsubstantiated claim put forward by Chairman Pai is that abrogating the classification of ISPs under Title II will lift onerous legal requirements that prevent or disincentivize ISPs from improving the speed of their broadband connections. However, Ars Technica has reported that a new analysis from the The Internet & Television Association (NCTA) shows that speed increases have not suffered any adverse impact due to the Obama-era net neutrality protections. 

How important is it to submit a comment?

UPDATE: As the initial filing period is now closed, we strongly encourage those supporting net neutrality to instead contact their representatives in Congress directly.

Extremely. A number of conspicuous and unscrupulous efforts on the part of as-yet unknown opponents of net neutrality, though which seem to have access to sophisticated resources, are seriously undermining those of net neutrality proponents. Automated bots have submitted hundreds of thousands of anti-net neutrality comments to the FCC proceedings page–many of these comments are identical, and some are attributed to individual citizens who have denied submitting any comment, or who had personally submitted comments in favor of net neutrality. In short, supporters of net neutrality need to submit genuine public comments in opposition to the proposed rule change in force because the deck is stacked against us. 

Jonathan Terrasi has been a Research Assistant with the Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights since January 2017. His interests include computer security, encryption, history, and philosophy. In his writing, he regularly covers topics on current affairs and political developments, as well as technical analyses and guides on security issues, published on his blog, Cymatic Scanning, and Linux Insider.