“Save the Internet Act”: a glimmer of hope for the state of net neutrality

The official Network Neutrality symbol.

The term “net neutrality” was first coined in 2003 by Professor Tim Wu of Columbia Law School. Back then, the battle for net neutrality was just beginning to brew, later turning into the burning fire of passion that we know of today. In early 2005, the FCC – Federal Communications Commission – fined North Carolina-based Internet Service Provider “Madison River” for preventing its users from using a phone system other than their own. Later that year, the FCC issued an Internet Policy Statement, bringing forth a set of pro-net neutrality guidelines for all internet service providers in the United States. After years of push-back from large corporations such as Comcast and Apple, the tension had begun to boil between internet & phone service providers and the FCC. Flash forward to 2015, the FCC passed the Open Internet Order, classifying internet service under Title II of the communications Act of 1934, which bars certain internet and phone service providers from “mak[ing] any unjust or unreasonable discrimination in charges, practices, classifications, regulations, facilities, or services.”

Ajit Pai speaking at the 2014 E-Rate Modernization Workshop.

However, two years had passed and the FCC suddenly voted against its previous order, freeing up internet service providers to block and/or throttle content as they deem fit. Understandably, the United States public was enraged. The thought on everyone’s mind was: “What caused this nonsensical decision on the part of the FCC – an organization that once fought FOR net neutrality, not against it?” Well, the answer seems to lie in a change of management. After his four-year tenure in the U.S. Senate, American lawyer Ajit Pai took center stage as designated chairman of the FCC. As chairman, Pai voted against the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order in December 2017. Pai stated in a 2016 interview that he believed net neutrality’s “days [were] numbered.” In February 2018, the National Rifle Association (NRA) awarded Ajit Pai with the Charlton-Heston “Courage Under Fire Award” for repealing net neutrality despite facing heavy criticism. As part of the award, a handmade custom Kentucky long gun was gifted to Pai. This gift caused former White House ethics attorney Walter Shaub to question if Pai, as a federal employee, had violated U.S. ethics rules by accepting gifts from lobbyists, such as the NRA.

Though the situation seemed bleak for a while, a new effort to restore net neutrality called the “Save the Internet Act” has not only emerged, but has passed in the House and is on its way to the Senate. Experts have stated that they believe the bill will eventually be vetoed by the GOP, however this is not a reason to be discouraged. “The American people are rightfully demanding that critical net neutrality protections be restored in law, and I’m hopeful this strong House vote helps build momentum for action in the Senate,” said Rep. Pallone in a statement. Mozilla, the company responsible for the Open Source browser Mozilla Firefox, said in an article regarding the new bill: “Today, the House took a firm stand on behalf of internet users across the country. We hope that the Senate will recognize the need for strong net neutrality protections and pass this legislation into law. In the meantime, we will continue to fight in the courts as the DC Circuit considers Mozilla v. FCC, our effort to restore essential net neutrality protections for consumers through litigation.”

The bill may be, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has called it, “dead on arrival” in the Senate, and the White House has implied its own hostility. Luckily, the issue a highly visible one that a sizeable chunk of legislation seems to favor and that voters will be considering in the 2020 elections. This being said, there may be those in the Senate who will make this bill a reality. We can only hope – for net neutrality’s sake – that a fair conclusion will be met in the coming months.