The Authors Guild has been fighting alongside many other free-speech advocates to preserve net neutrality—the principle that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally—but now the FCC appears poised to dismantle crucial Obama-era regulations meant to guarantee a free and open internet.
The new FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, intends to reverse the 2015 decision, upheld by a Federal appellate court in 2016, to regulate broadband internet service as a public utility akin to telephones and electricity. Pai, a former cable lobbyist appointed by President Trump, stated that the federal government would stop “micromanaging” the internet: “Instead, the FCC would simply require internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate.”
This “simple” proposal could give large internet providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T control over content on the internet, and allow them to institute a “pay-to-play” hierarchy. ISPs could not only prevent access to particular websites outright, but limit consumer access to these sites (along with free expression) by slowing down connection speeds or by conditioning access to the desired content upon the payment of extra fees—all at the providers’ discretion. Even tech giants such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon caution against taking this step, saying this “represents the end of net neutrality as we know it and defies the will of millions of Americans,” according to Michael Beckerman, chief executive of the Internet Association (a lobbying group that represents Google, Facebook, Amazon and other tech firms).
We are urging our members to make their individual voices heard, and we reiterate the stance we took in a letter sent to Pai in March 2017: “The principles of net neutrality—that all data on the internet should be treated equally, and internet service providers (ISPs) should not discriminate or provide preference to any data, regardless of its source, content, or destination—are the foundation that has made the internet the engine of opportunity it is today.”