The FCC must protect the open internet — millions of Americans agree
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Since its creation, the internet has operated under a simple principle: All traffic, regardless of its content, should be treated equally.

It’s this idea that allowed the internet to change the world, the way we communicate, and the way we do business.

It’s what allowed college students to develop two of the world’s biggest companies, presidential candidates to upend the political process, and universities to open up their courses for anyone, anywhere to study. And now it’s under grave threat.

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FCC Chairman Ajit Pai plans to eliminate net neutrality protections. Without these protections, big internet service providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T will be free to block or slow down content as they see fit.

 

These net neutrality rules are incredibly popular with Americans from all walks of life.

According to a recent poll conducted by Civis Analytics, 77 percent of Americans support keeping the strong net neutrality rules we already have and more than 80 percent agree with the principles of net neutrality.

Net neutrality also found overwhelming support across income and education levels, race, and gender.

Support is strong among Democrats and Republicans. Even in this polarized political climate, an open Internet is one of the few things we all agree on.

The current net neutrality rules, enacted in 2015 after millions of Americans wrote to the FCC supporting them, gave the FCC the authority to enforce net neutrality and ensure internet service providers do not block, throttle, or prioritize traffic from any website.

By correctly classifying internet service providers as common carriers, just like phone companies, the 2015 rules made the FCC a much-needed watchdog for consumers, while changing little about how internet providers operate.

These light-touch rules have unprecedented support from the public and we’re already seeing a groundswell of Americans writing the FCC to support an open Internet.

We, as former FCC commissioners, believe that these rules are the only way of preserving real net neutrality that protects the internet as an economic engine and platform for democratic discourse.

If Pai has his way, we could see an Internet where big cable companies decide who should have a voice and which businesses succeed and fail. Much of the business community, especially job-creating small businesses, is strongly behind net neutrality.

More than 1,000 startups nationwide have signed a letter supporting the current rules. As the Civis Analytics poll shows, Americans understand the importance of an open Internet to economic growth and innovation, with 90 percent in agreement that protecting a level playing field on the internet makes it easier for small businesses and startup companies to grow and succeed.

The need for rules to protect the open internet isn’t theoretical. Recent years have seen attempts by internet providers to subvert net neutrality and take actions that favor specific businesses, limit competition, and reduce consumer choice.

For example, in 2012, AT&T blocked FaceTime for mobile users. Prior to that, AT&T, Sprint, and Verizon blocked Google Wallet in favor of their own mobile payment service. Without net neutrality, it’s not hard to imagine a tiered Internet where the websites you’re able to access depend on what plan you — or they — can afford.

Only the current net neutrality rules give the FCC the authority to ensure that the Internet remains open for all, and can remain a watchdog to stop bad behavior before it harms consumers and innovation.

The recent Civis poll found that more than 80 percent of Americans in both parties believe the government should prioritize preventing companies from harming consumers before it occurs.

Eliminating or watering down the net neutrality rules would do just the opposite, giving companies free reign to control what Americans see and do on the Internet, changing the profound effect the open Internet has on the economy and our democracy.

This Wednesday, corporations, public interest advocates, and everyday Americans will be uniting for a Day of Action in support of net neutrality and against Pai’s proposed rollback.

Throughout the debate, millions of individuals and businesses are making their voices clear: Strong net neutrality rules are important to the future of continued innovation, free speech, and economic opportunity. Proponents of a free and open internet should ensure their support is heard by filing comments at the FCC.

And, if we want an internet that truly lives up to our country’s ideals, the current FCC chairman better listen to the citizens he serves.

Michael Copps is the Special Advisor at Common Cause and former FCC Commissioner and Gloria Tristani is a Special Policy Advisor at National Hispanic Media Coalition and former FCC Commissioner.  


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.