Donald Trump promised to drain the swamp, and then he built an even bigger one. Just two weeks into his presidency, Trump’s new FCC gave its first gift to the telecom industry: a free pass for AT&T and Verizon to divide up the internet and start to make it look more like cable television. FCC chairman Ajit Pai shot a giant flare into the sky to show ISPs the swamp was clear, and then the crocodiles moved in.
It seems like the stakes are high for everything this year, but the internet is under an urgent threat. Communications giants are wealthy, smart, and opportunistic, and so far our new government seems to be no match for them — whether we’re talking about an FCC that has cowed to the industry it’s supposed to regulate or a Congress and White House that still don’t seem to understand how the internet works. (No, it’s not like a bridge.)
The internet is under an urgent threat
That vacuum of knowledge and principle explains how the ISP industry got its second big gift in Trump’s first 100 days. In April, telecom giants somehow convinced lawmakers to roll back an Obama-era rule that would prevent ISPs from selling your web browsing history without your permission. Even more than the FCC’s retreat from zero-rating regulation, this move showed the industry’s raw influence over this administration; it’s hard to imagine a more unpopular move than letting people’s internet providers mess with their privacy. And yet, lawmakers who passed the bill argued that it was in the spirit of fairness that ISPs should be able to secretly sell your data.
Now, the FCC and Republicans under Trump want to give the telecom lobby a third, massive gift by dismantling the hard-won net neutrality regulations that preserve the internet as we know and love it. Chairman Pai announced that the FCC plans to roll back Title II, and ISPs are thrilled. Maybe Pai just wants to hear again from the millions of people who confidently told the FCC in 2014 not to give the internet away to some of the most hated companies in America.
A small coalition of tech companies are quietly putting up a fight, but Trump’s first 100 days have emboldened net neutrality’s enemies. And as America’s telecoms continue to consolidate, they’re only getting more powerful.