Net Neutrality Is Essential to Online Democracy

A Statement of the National Political Committee of Democratic Socialists of America

In May of this year, the Federal Communications Commission voted in favor of dismantling one of the fundamental tenets of an open Internet: net neutrality. Enacted in 2015, net neutrality is the principle that Internet service providers (ISPs) should allow users equal access to all online content and applications regardless of the source. It classifies broadband as a utility, thus preventing providers such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from accelerating traffic to preferred sites (that is, sites that pay extra, are affiliated with them, or that they find politically savory) or obstructing traffic to sites they deem unfavorable.

DSA believes that net neutrality is an essential component of online democracy. Without it, corporations will have license to control the content and delivery of information hundreds of millions of people rely on daily. To understand the gravity of losing net neutrality, consider this example: In 2007, Verizon severed subscriber access to a text-messaging program from the pro-choice nonprofit NARAL, explaining that it would not host communications from any group “that seeks to promote an agenda or distribute content that, in its discretion, may be seen as controversial or unsavory to any of our users.” (Fortunately, Verizon reversed its censorship of NARAL after large user protests.)

Were net neutrality to be razed, the repercussions would be infinite. Comcast, an ISP, might decide to charge users $5 per month to visit popular free sites, such as Facebook or Wikipedia, justifying the charge with such disingenuous labels as “convenience fee” or “service fee.” In so doing, it would stymie the flow of information to low-income Internet users, who are already subject to slow speeds and prohibitive broadband costs. Similarly, if AT&T workers strike due to poor working conditions—which happened earlier this year—and create a website to publicize their grievances and seek support, the company might opt to prevent its broadband subscribers from accessing it, committing a veritable act of union-busting censorship.

Now, spurred by telecom lobbyists, Trump-appointed FCC Chairman Ajit Pai seeks to institute a far more lax “plan” for ISP regulation: remove broadband’s utility classification, replace net neutrality with ISPs’ “voluntary” commitment to a select few net neutrality facets in their terms of service, and transfer oversight to the Federal Trade Commission, which lacks the FCC’s preemptive regulatory power. Simply put, Pai and the Republican-majority FCC seek to jettison any legal enforcement of a fair, transparent Internet.The opposition to Pai’s proposal, however, is vehement and growing. DSA has joined a number of organizations, including Free Press, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Demand Progress, to keep net neutrality intact. Through grassroots organizing and collective action—mobilizing activists to meet with elected officials, developing social-media campaigns, attending town hall meetings, demonstrating outside telecom headquarters—DSA aims to restore this pillar of digital democracy.

If capitalism is allowed to run rampant, the only thing free on the Web will be the market. In its efforts to preserve net neutrality, DSA hopes to create an open, democratic Internet in the people’s best interest.