It’s been a year since the FCC voted to repeal net neutrality protection rules, and only six months since they took effect. The FCC reclassified broadband providers as an “information service” rather than a “telecommunications service” which is subject to nondiscrimination requirements. And this month, the FCC voted to apply the same classification for text messages. The controversial measure gives cellular carriers more power over SMS messages and means they will now have a legal right to censor text messages.
“These deregulatory decisions are bad news for democracy. They make the internet, and now text messages, vulnerable to interference and censorship from internet service providers,” says RSF San Francisco director Sabine Dolan. “Carriers can now decide to block sites and prioritize content as well as the speed of content delivery. In our digital world, the internet is a forum of free speech. Net neutrality is vital to protect freedom of expression and media diversity.”
Much is at stake
Under the previous protective provisions, Internet service providers were required to treat all data on the internet equally. Carriers were prohibited from blocking access or slowing down services or application on the web. The regulations also banned them from raising fees for faster access and allowed for a level playing field. Without these safeguards that protected consumers, much is at stake.
The move could further harm people in underserved communities, especially in rural areas where there is already very little or no choice in carriers. These areas may be hit hardest by pay prioritization, whereby broadband providers allow companies to pay for priority treatment. RSF is also concerned about the impact the measures could have on the plurality of online content and competition.
RSF is planning to look into just how the dismantling of protective regulations could harm media diversity in the US since the repeal took effect just six months ago. On our radar: how the lack of regulation could benefit larger outlets thereby increasing media concentration to the detriment of competition from smaller entities.
The FCC’s removal of safeguards for a free and open net could also have damaging repercussions on the world stage given America’s online dominance. This could have a significant impact on the next generation of online services, which are already being fragilized across the world, especially with authoritarian governments and the rise of “digital authoritarianism.”
Net neutrality vs. cyber manipulation
Meanwhile, recent revelations indicate that millions of comments posted on the FCC in support of deregulation were in fact fake. And while the FBI investigates the potential involvement of Russia in these postings, it turns out that, of the verified identity comments, the overwhelming majority of Americans favored an open and free web. To this day, 26 states cutting across political lines have passed their own net neutrality safeguards.
When it comes to the information and communication space, RSF strongly believes in the virtues of political, ideological and religious neutrality as presented in its new Declaration on Information and Democracy. The net neutrality discourse has so far focused principally on commercial interests, to the detriment of the people and the core values of liberty, equality, diversity and self-determination.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this press release inaccurately stated that "newly-elected Democrats in the US House of Representatives are fighting" to overturn the FCC's ruling on net neutrality. This article has been updated to say the "US House of Representatives faces a key deadline this Friday to overturn the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) repeal of net neutrality rules."