NEW YORK – When I was growing up in Brooklyn, my father owned a small pest-control business. If his competitor down the street had received preferred electricity service, he would have been rightly outraged—and the law would have protected him from that unfair treatment. We don’t reserve certain highways for a single trucking company, and we don’t limit phone service to hand-picked stores.
In today’s economy, it is equally important that access to the backbone of twenty-first century infrastructure, the Internet, be similarly unfettered. That is why it is critical that we maintain the net neutrality protections and clear oversight authority that the Federal Communications Commission put in place in 2015 through the Open Internet Order.
The Internet is an invaluable platform on which we depend to spur innovation and job creation. Our economy works best when innovators, entrepreneurs, and businesses of all sizes compete on a level playing field. Ensuring that the playing field would be level was the basis for the FCC’s decision to protect net neutrality by properly classifying broadband as a telecommunications service.
This common-sense legal framework won in court last year. It gives the FCC power to craft and enforce net neutrality rules that protect users and prevent Internet providers from blocking consumer access to lawful content or controlling broadband speeds and reserving faster service for large corporations at the expense of small businesses and consumers. Instead, it ensures that all Americans have equal access to a free and open Internet once they get online.
However, conservative interests now see an opportunity to roll back these protections and that access to a free and open Internet in order to favor powerful corporate interests. President Trump’s appointee to lead the FCC, Chairman Ajit Pai, has already taken several actions to undercut fair Internet access. In his first two weeks on the job, Chairman Pai stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed Internet to low-income individuals, and he jammed through nearly a dozen industry-backed actions, including some to begin curtailing net neutrality.
The most alarming part: these clandestine moves to clip the public’s fundamental right to a free and open Internet were done without seeking public comment first. The chairman tossed out transparency rules for ISPs and shut down investigations into unfair "zero-rating" practices that harm entrepreneurs and small businesses. These changes stifle net neutrality protections, ensuring that only a handful of powerful corporations have a shot at success. This does nothing to invigorate our economy or spark innovation, it just creates an aggravating experience for consumers and potentially bank-breaking consequences for American start-ups.
These hurried and reckless actions clearly do not have the public’s best interest at heart, a pattern that has already become a trademark of the Trump administration. Without net neutrality protections, the Internet becomes a platform where the highest bidder reigns supreme. It would become a luxury rather than a public resource. We cannot let that happen. We cannot allow this administration to ignore the millions of Americans who rely on an open Internet and have contacted the FCC to voice their support for net neutrality.
The Open Internet order is working well as it is and should remain undisturbed. To prohibit ideological political appointees from unilaterally dismantling the order, we would welcome the partnership of our Republican colleagues to codify into statute the full protections of net neutrality, including the authority and ability of the FCC to adapt regulations to changing conditions. If President Trump and Chairman Pai want to demonstrate that they indeed serve the American people rather than a few corporate friends, they should make clear immediately that they do not support any undoing of the protections of net neutrality. If not, they can expect a wall of resistance from Senate Democrats, who will continue fighting tooth and nail to protect fair and equal Internet access for all Americans.
US Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is Senate Minority Leader.