Though headlines at the time focused on Net Neutrality, the Trump FCC did a lot more than destroy the open-internet rules. It walked away from its authority under Title II of the Communications Act — and thereby undermined its authority to protect our communication rights.
And now, our access to communications is quite literally a matter of life and death.
As COVID-19 spreads across the country and people’s lives and livelihoods are under threat, the consequences of the agency’s reckless actions have never been more clear or more dire.
But there’s hope. While the D.C. Circuit Court upheld the FCC’s repeal of Net Neutrality last year, it sent the FCC back to the drawing board on questions related to how the agency’s 2017 decision undercut public safety and the Lifeline program, which provides a $9.25 monthly subsidy to help poor people access phone and internet services. That means we have a chance to register our opinion at the agency once more.
Here are 3 reasons you should raise your voice at the FCC today:
1. The FCC is relying on promises and voluntary (read: unenforceable) pledges from ISPs to get and keep people online during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yes. You read that right. An agency of the U.S. federal government is relying on companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon — who, as you might recall, are not known for their good behavior — to do the right thing out of the goodness of executives’ hearts. And in a not-so-stunning turn of events, we’ve already seen reports that companies are breaking their pledge and disconnecting people.
During this national emergency, the FCC should be leading efforts to get and keep poor people and people of color — who are disproportionately on the wrong side of the digital divide and are being hit the hardest by the pandemic — online. But without the legal authority under Title II that the agency threw away, its options are limited.
“Unacceptable” doesn’t begin to describe this situation.
2. The agency also undercut the legal foundation that supports the broadband Lifeline program.
Lifeline is a federal program with the goal of alleviating the high costs of communication services for poor people.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic began and millions lost their sources of income, the cost of broadband was so high and the ISPs’ policies so discriminatory that more than one-fifth of households nationwide didn’t have home internet. Prior to the pandemic, only 56 percent of households making less than $20,000 had home broadband, with low-income Black and Hispanic households even less likely to have home internet than their low-income white counterparts.
Right now, millions of people need affordable broadband and phone services to access critical telehealth services, apply for unemployment benefits, get counted in the census, participate in distance learning, stay in touch with loved ones and so much more.
But even when we’re not in the middle of a pandemic, people need to be able to get online. Internet access is not a luxury. It should be as affordable and accessible as electricity and water.
3. By ditching its authority under Title II, the FCC undermined its ability to ensure that the public and first responders have open and reliable communications networks.
Remember the stories about Verizon throttling firefighters’ broadband service while they were battling a historic wildfire in California a few years ago? Had the FCC been doing its job, the firefighters might not have had to fight so hard to ensure they could do their job safely. As was made painfully clear in Puerto Rico, our ability to communicate during a disaster is a life-and-death issue. The FCC’s GOP majority should be ashamed of themselves.
This list — while bad enough — is just the tip of the iceberg. Abandoning Title II stripped the FCC of its ability to protect our privacy online, promote the broadband competition we need for affordable service options, ensure that ISPs disclose hidden fees, guarantee reasonable broadband access for people with disabilities, and much more.
This is why we’ve fought so hard against the fake “compromise” Net Neutrality bills that have popped up in Congress like gophers since 2017. Net Neutrality without Title II — and the many other protections it brings — is simply not acceptable. We refuse to compromise our rights away.
Sign our petition to submit a comment calling on the FCC to restore Net Neutrality and its authority under Title II. We’ll deliver your comment to the FCC for you.