In 2014-15, a broad social movement won net neutrality, but that victory was taken away by the chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai, under the Trump administration. President Biden, promising to restore net neutrality, appointed a favorable chairperson, Gigi Sohn, but his administration and Democrats in Congress failed to defend her from a successful attack by the Telecommunications industry. Clearing the FOG speaks with Evan Greer, director of Fight for the Future, about the current campaign to push for a new FCC commissioner, what is behind the assault on Tik Tok, including a dangerous piece of legislation called the RESTRICT Act, and how corporations are using facial recognition technology for their own agendas.
Remember Ajit Pai, the former Verizon lawyer Trump put in charge of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)? When he gutted net neutrality rules and kneecapped the agency’s ability to regulate telecom monopolies, voters from across the political spectrum were outraged. The internet erupted in protest. Millions of people from across the political spectrum called their elected officials and submitted comments to the FCC, and thousands took to the streets. It was a rare moment of genuinely popular public revolt that defied partisan DC logic. If there’s one thing everyone can agree on, it’s that we don’t want our cable or phone company screwing us over more than they already do, selling our browsing habits and real-time location to advertisers, or dictating what websites we can visit or which apps we use.
The Washington Post is reporting that Gigi Sohn, the Biden administration’s nominee for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), will withdraw her nomination, after Democrats failed to stand up to an outrageous and bigoted smear campaign funded by the telecom industry. Sohn’s withdrawal plunges the Biden administration’s supposed priorities into peril: deadlocked at 2-2, the FCC will be unable to restore net neutrality, enforce privacy rules, or use its authority to protect the location data of people seeking or facilitating abortions.
Gigi Sohn was nominated by Joe Biden to fill the vacant fifth seat at the Federal Communications Commission in October of 2021, and renominated for a third time last month. Sohn is a veteran legal telecom expert, a fellow at Georgetown Law, co-founder of the group Public Knowledge, and for years an advisor to former FCC chair Tom Wheeler. Hundreds of groups, officials, companies—left, right and center—have publicly endorsed her. So why has her nomination languished? Therein lies the tale—a disheartening one of outsized corporate power and the denaturing of government’s public interest obligation, and of transparently scurrilous right-wing attacks, and lagging, inadequate response.
This month President Joe Biden renominated the highly qualified Sohn, whose confirmation has now been stalled for a record-breaking amount of time. With a 50/50 split in the Senate, Democrats had failed to muster enough support for a vote in the face of strong opposition from deep-pocketed big media corporations like Comcast. The FCC has been operating without a fifth member for well over a year, which has left it deadlocked with two Democratic and two Republican members. That’s great news for the telecom industry, which is enjoying the FCC’s inability to do things like restore net neutrality (which was implemented under Obama and repealed under Trump), ensure equal access to broadband, prevent further consolidation of big media, and crack down on wireless carriers’ abuse of private user location data.
Cloudflare’s recent headline-making decision to refuse its services to KiwiFarms—a site notorious for allowing its users to wage harassment campaigns against trans people—is likely to lead to more calls for infrastructure companies to police online speech. Although EFF would shed no tears at the loss of KiwiFarms (which is still online as of this writing), Cloudflare’s decision re-raises fundamental, and still unanswered, questions about the role of such companies in shaping who can, and cannot, speak online. The deplatforming followed a campaign demanding that Cloudflare boot the site from its services. At first the company refused, but then, just 48 hours later, Cloudflare removed KiwiFarms from its services and issued a statement outlining their justifications for doing so.
Washington, DC — On Friday, President Joe Biden signed an executive order calling on federal agencies, including the Federal Communications Commission and Federal Trade Commission, to enact measures protecting internet users against the anti-competitive practices of large telecommunications and internet companies. In the order, Biden calls on the FCC to “restore Net Neutrality rules undone by the [Trump] administration.” In 2017, the agency under then-Chairman Ajit Pai repealed the Open Internet Order and abandoned the FCC’s jurisdiction over broadband under Title II of the Communications Act. Today’s executive order also calls on the FCC to require more transparency from broadband providers about their prices and terms of service, and to examine the impact of early termination fees and other punitive practices imposed on broadband customers.
Broadband allows people to participate in the digital world, which encompasses our daily lives. It connects people with their families and friends, news on what is happening in the country and abroad, and gives access to an unlimited amount of important information and resources. During the COVID-19 pandemic, broadband has been critical in supporting online school and work, access to healthcare and medical information, and even vaccine distribution. Eighty-seven percent of people reported that the internet has been important to them during the outbreak, and fifty-three percent of people reported that broadband is essential for critical purposes and everyday tasks. If broadband is so essential, then why doesn’t current federal policy enable the Federal Communications Commission to regulate broadband as we regulate other public utilities — similar to the way we treat electricity, water, and phones?
The US Department of Justice under President Joe Biden has dropped a department lawsuit filed under former President Donald Trump that challenged California's net neutrality rules. California's law, considered more strict than federal rules adopted during the Obama administration, could set the baseline for future federal rules. The DOJ formally dismissed the lawsuit Monday. The suit was first filed in 2018 under ex-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Trump appointee. Former California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed the California law in October 2018. California adopted the new rules after a Republican-led FCC in 2017 repealed federal rules that had been established under President Barrack Obama.
Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who said Monday he will depart the commission on Jan. 20, leaves behind a controversial legacy: He’s regarded as either an exemplary change agent or an ideologue who forfeited consumer interests for commercial ones. To cable, telecommunications and consumer-electronics companies, Pai has been a model of transparency and a champion of free markets who cut away outdated regulations and laid the groundwork for the expansion of broadband to millions of Americans.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, a reliable broadband connection is a health and safety necessity. Families need the internet to connect to remote work, virtual classrooms, election information and telehealth care while maintaining social distance. But roughly 60 percent of low-income parents say their students will experience digital obstacles when attending online school this fall — including 40 percent who say they will have to seek out public WiFi because they don’t have a reliable internet connection at home. And students aren’t the only ones who need internet access to learn, work and thrive at home — at all times, but especially now.
Washington, DC (October 29, 2020) - During Tuesday’s FCC open meeting, I was tweeting about the failures and falsehoods in the agency’s latest open-internet vote — a decision that involves so much more than just Net Neutrality rules, and that’s all about the Trump FCC’s unlawful abdication of its responsibility for broadband policy. The agency just released the final order, so this explainer recaps that Twitter thread and the Free Press research it came from. During tumultuous times it can be hard to focus on internet and media policy issues like these.
Five years ago, the movement for internet freedom won an important victory when the Federal Communications Commission reclassified the internet as a common carrier, making it like a utility that everyone should have equal access to without discrimination. That was quickly reversed in 2017 under the new chair of the FCC, Ajit Pai, a former Verizon lawyer, who deregulated the internet giving the government no authority to oversee the internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T. I speak with Josh Stager of the Open Technology Institute about the ongoing fight to protect the internet and what we need to do next.
Washington, DC - On October 27, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to reaffirm its 2017 repeal of net neutrality. The vote is a response to Mozilla v. FCC, a 2019 court ruling that found the FCC’s decision to repeal net neutrality was “unhinged from the realities of modern broadband service” and ignored the government’s duty to protect public safety, digital equity, and broadband competition. In February 2020, the FCC abruptly announced a short public comment period to address the ruling and the court-ordered remand, or do-over, of the net neutrality proceeding.
Washington - In a blog post on Monday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai wrote that he stands by the agency's unpopular repeal of Net Neutrality rules. Pai also circulated a proposal to address three issues raised in 2019 by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit when it remanded critical parts of that repeal and sent it back to the agency. At that time, the court commanded the FCC to examine the impacts of removing Title II as a source of authority for broadband’s inclusion in the Lifeline subsidy program.