The glossy technology that pervades modern life offers ease and access to global information — but the companies who provide internet access and the services we love also pose great threats to consumer privacy and freedom. Consumers need a government that will pick up the sword to fight against profit–seeking internet giants. What they have is an administration that is picking up binoculars and pointing the giants toward the villagers.
Last Tuesday, the House voted to rollback Federal Communications Commission regulations that would have prevented telecom companies from tracking and selling consumers’ internet data without their consent. The vote was along party lines, with Republicans, including every Texas Republican representative, voting for the rollback and democrats voting against. Having passed the Senate a week prior, the bill needs only President Donald Trump’s expected approval to become law. Once Trump swirls his sharp ballpoint on the dotted line, the privacy rules put place under former President Barack Obama will be nullified and there will be guards against similar legislation in the future.
Congressional Republicans made a mistake when they sided with the telecom companies like AT&T and Comcast, who complained that they were unfairly being regulated while companies like Google and Facebook, which also collect user search data, were not. This vote signifies the Trump administration’s propensity to cater to the concerns of large broadband companies over the everyday consumer. And they aren’t finished dismantling regulations. Their next target? Net neutrality.
Both Trump and his appointee as chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, have signaled disdain for net neutrality and willingness remove it. Ajit Pai voted against net neutrality rules in 2015, and has already taken first steps to dismantling net neutrality rules and Trump revealed his position in a nearly incoherent and erroneous tweet from 2014: “Obama’s attack on the internet is another top down power grab. Net neutrality is the Fairness Doctrine. Will target conservative media.” Fact check: The Fairness Doctrine was an FCC policy scrapped in 1987 which required news outlets to present multiple viewpoints on public interest matters. That policy actually had a direct impact on conservative media coverage; net neutrality does not.
Net neutrality simply would ensure that all websites, including liberal and conservative news websites, are equally accessible. Its rules are vital to allowing free movement of internet traffic, and without it carriers could implement “pay-to-play” rules that block or slow service to a crawl for websites that can’t afford it while keeping others at top speed. This would be fantastic for big broadband carriers but a nightmare for consumers and a blight against free access to information online. Eliminating net neutrality rules would open us up to a world in which AT&T partners with HBO GO, Verizon links with Netflix and freshmen on UT wifi scream into their keyboards while The Office buffers for eternity.
American consumers ought to be very concerned about their online privacy or freedom. We should prepare to protest the bills to dismantle net neutrality whenever they eke out of Congress. Constituent involvement on this issue is what got net neutrality passed in 2015, despite a Republican Congress, when millions of individuals sent comments to the FCC in favor of the rules and made more than 500,000 calls. In 2017, Congress may seem more deaf to public outcry than usual, so efforts might have to be more large scale. The good news is that people are also more motivated to make noise now than they ever were in 2015.
It may seem like there are a lot of issues that demand our attention. While scrolling through a news feed one can feel remarkable kinship with John Snow staring at a horde of White Walkers. You can cut one down, but winter keeps coming. Still, keeping the Internet free and protecting consumer privacy are two issues that should not be forgotten. Since the government won’t fight broadband giants for us, we have to do it ourselves.
Doan is a Plan II and english sophomore from Fort Worth.