By Samantha Bartholomew
With Obama-era net neutrality protections set to expire April 23, Rep. Mark Takano hosted a forum alongside Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn on March 27 in the Digital Library Auditorium.
The forum is the result of Takano’s office receiving more than 12,000 letters from the public expressing their concerns about the FCC’s plan to eliminate net neutrality protections.
Takano and Clyburn have both expressed their support of federal regulations protecting net neutrality, or the concept that internet service providers should enable equal access to online content. A majority of the FCC voted last year to eliminate existing net neutrality rules, prompting legal challenges by net neutrality supporters.
Net neutrality is a principle that says no internet traffic should get special treatment. Internet service providers can’t block or degrade certain traffic because the website or service pumping it out isn’t willing to pay up for prioritization.
Although the FCC is in the process of rescinding the rule, most Americans are in favor of net neutrality and states are stepping in where FCC Chairman Ajit Pai refuses to tread.
A recent 3-2 vote by the FCC reversed a 2015 ruling that barred internet providers from blocking websites or from charging more for faster service and certain content.
Though the FCC decision is being challenged in court, some consumer advocates argue the vote eventually could lead to an internet dominated by big companies at the expense of start-ups and independent businesses.
Takano said that he believes that the answer lies in the Congressional Review Act, a law that empowers Congress to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and to overrule a regulation.
“I think the easiest path is the CRA because we don’t have to overcome a Senate filibuster,” Takano said. “We were close, we’re at 50 votes in the Senate, we just need one more vote.”
“If we were to try to pass a statute to overrule this, we’d have to get the 60 votes in the Senate,” Takano said. “Much more difficult.”
“We still face the problem of whether or not the House of Representatives will allow a vote on (a statute),” Takano said. “Then we face the prospect of the president vetoing the measure, but we already have a substantial basis of people who do understand the issue and are very passionate about it.”
“The number of the communications I get in my office every week is off the charts,” Takano said. “The president will have to think twice about whether he’s actually going to veto something that Congress overrules with the CRA. So I think the CRA is a good opportunity and I think we need to also try to have our states litigate this in court as well.”
“If those elected officials truly represent and will vote in line with the will of the people, they will be in sync,” Clyburn said. “We should not even be here having this discussion if it were based on the will of the people, if it were based on the legitimate comments — the bulk of them were in favor of net neutrality.”
A survey from the University of Maryland shows that large majorities of Americans — including 3 out of 4 Republicans — oppose the government’s plan to repeal its net neutrality rules for internet providers.
“It’s the will of the American people, it’s embracing of the principles that this more perfect union represents,” Clyburn said. “I believe that the arc of history will be in line with the will of the people. Maybe not by April 23 of this year or next year, but I think the future is bright when it comes to net neutrality because it’s the will of the people.”
Clyburn said that she would continue to advocate for net neutrality due to her belief that it is a necessity for rural communities and that net neutrality bridges the technological divide.
“I will continue to voice that going forward in my current role and in my future role of being a non-government employee because I truly believe that being connected, having an open platform benefits us all,” Clyburn said.
Clyburn also said she encourages citizens to contact their state and local lawmakers and tell them why net neutrality is essential for them personally.
“I think people need to tell their own stories about what this incredible, enabling platform has meant for them, and if their lives or interaction with that changes, what that could potentially mean. … And what could it mean if somebody else were dictating your experiences online?” Clyburn said.