With Obama-era net neutrality protections set to expire on April 23, many are concerned with what will become of the Internet as we have come to know it. In an effort to address such concerns, Congressman Mark Takano (D-41) hosted a forum alongside Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Mignon Clyburn on Tuesday, March 27 regarding net neutrality. Commissioner Clyburn is one of the five leaders in the FCC involved in the vote to repeal net neutrality, and was one of two who voted against said repeal. Takano and Clyburn spoke before a crowd of around 20 people at Riverside City College’s (RCC) Digital Library. Following the forum, the Highlander sat down with Commissioner Clyburn and Congressman Takano (with assistance from Samantha Bartholomew of RCC’s Viewpoints newspaper).
The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Quinn Minten: First I’d like to ask if you’d, for our readers, summarize the current status of net neutrality in America.
Mignon Clyburn: On April 23, the first phase of the repeal will go into effect. When the majority put the ruling in the federal register, that allowed for a number of things to happen. The lawsuits that happened, the challenges with the Congressional Review Act (CRA), and it had this clock ticking on the rules, of the reversals going into effect. So on April 23, the major phase of the reversal will go into effect.
QM: So what do you believe is the best method we have for preserving net neutrality in the coming months? Using the Congressional Review Act or passing a bill in Congress or letting this fall to the states?
Mark Takano: I think the easiest path is the Congressional Review Act because we don’t have to overcome a Senate filibuster. And 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. Much more difficult. We still face the problem of whether or not the House of Representatives will allow a vote on it (a statute). And 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. 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.
MC: The vast majority of Americans are in favor of net neutrality. They were in line with the rules that we passed in 2015. If those elected officials truly represent and will vote in line with the will of the people, they will be in sync. 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. It’s the will of the American people, it’s embracing of the principles that this more perfect union represents. And if there were, if the will of the people, 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.
Samantha Bartholomew: You say that the majority of the population wants net neutrality. Why isn’t that being translated at the federal level?
MC: Again, it’s the influence of those who are closer to the policymakers and the lawmakers. You’ve got the majority of the FCC and maybe the majority of other policymakers and decision makers who think a deregulatory, industry-centric approach is best. I don’t subscribe to that principle. I think that we can achieve a balance, have consumer protections that are solid and can be held up in court and having (a) regulatory construct that will enable innovation and investment and opportunities and the like. I think we can walk and chew gum at the same time when it comes to this and I believe that what we did in 2015 allowed that. It allowed for certainty, it allowed for consumer protections, it allowed for us to be able to invest in rural and urban communities, it allowed for innovation to thrive.
MT: Let me just add, elections have consequences. President Obama appointed the commission that was interested in protecting consumers, protecting innovation, protecting little guys against big guys. Millions of millions of dollars (were) spent in maneuvering to appoint anti-consumer commissioners to the FCC. So the answer to your question: Millions of millions of dollars of lobbying money, both to work the Senate to confirm this person and to get the administration to appoint a guy who clearly is toeing the industry line and millions of dollars are being spent in Congress to try and stop the vote from happening in the House of Representatives. You can bet that huge amounts of dollars are flowing through lobbyists as we speak to prevent this vote. All this is happening in a city that Donald Trump said he was going to drain the swamp (in). This is the swamp, what we’re describing is the swamp, and it’s festering in Trumpland.
QM: In the coming months, what, if anything, do you plan to do personally to continue to fight for net neutrality?
MC: I continue to be a voice, I continue to show why adhering to net neutrality principles is important for rural communities, for those who might be homebound or have different types of physical or mental challenges, how that openness to platforms, how an FCC that is willing to make some difficult decisions about some principles when it comes to bridging the opportunities, divides through technology, through regulation, through the entities that we regulate, that we are willing to balance the needs of industry and first and foremost the needs of consumers. So 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.
It also benefits a big industry that’s voting against it because it means more opportunities, it could mean more people signing up for a service if they can afford it. And that’s why public policy needs to be aligned with the needs and the will of the people. If you’ve got millions of people who can’t afford broadband services or other services, then the government needs to be there to be a partner to ensure that we have the capacity and the ability to provide and enable these services with private industry. That’s what our universal service construct does. It’s a public-private partnership because the government is not going to build this infrastructure. The government is not going to provide broadband services on its own. It’s going to partner with private industry that has the means to get that out quicker and I think it’s important for us, and the principles of an openness, of equity, digital equity.
All of those are beneficial, they’re national priorities and I will continue to give voice to those who might not be able to afford to come up to Capitol Hill, who might not be able to get off from work to make their voices known at this hall, who might not even know what to ask for. But we know that with a tweak here, and good regulatory policy, we will enable them to take care of their families, to educate themselves, to promote and establish our own businesses, to get better health care delivery, to speak another language that’s not offered at school. All these things are possible with an open Internet and I will continue to give voice to that, particularly the health side – that’s my passion.
SB: Do you think that the answer to this lies in some title classification that isn’t Title I or Title II, like coming to a middle ground?
MC: Well, I would be OK with a middle ground if it allowed for the protections and if it could be held up in court. But, see, the ground that we’re returning to is a ground that got overturned twice. And that’s my issue. Title II … those in industry and now a majority has been characterized in a way that I think is unfair. Number one, what is not being said is that Title II, that we established in 2015 to codify these rules, got rid of 700 provisions and 25 rules that are not applicable in today’s society. Because, if you remember, part of the argument is we’re using the old rules when we just had rotary phones.
That’s just not true because we got rid of rules and regulations, hundreds of them, that are not applicable because we know this is not your mom and pop’s … this is not the infrastructure of today. This is different. But you still deserve protections, it’s still critical, it’s still your means of connecting to the world. And if you lose control once you sign up for service, you are deserving of protections when you give people that information you need when you sign up for service. They know everything about you when you go online. They know what sites you’re visiting. That information, and we’ve been seeing it, should not be in control of somebody else, who’s trying to use that for profit. You should be able to let an entity know … your personal information, you should have control over that. So when we talk about these companies, it’s not just about — and this is important — it’s not just about you having access to online services and apps of your choice, that’s important; it’s not just about not having paid prioritization in place or being throttled, having your traffic slowed down, preferential treatment, not just that. It’s about that critical information that Internet service provider has and whether or not you control that too. So all of this is a part of the protections that you had in 2015, that come April 23, I don’t care what it said, you’re not gonna have those same levels of protections, and the public should be worried.
QM: What would you recommend that students, potentially the students in this audience, do to continue to show their support for net neutrality and what they can do to change so that we don’t lose these protections?
MC: Your state and local lawmakers and policymakers, talk to your federal officials, talk to them all the time. Those state and local (politicians), if you can’t get to your congressperson, they have their ears and eyes (open). 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? You cannot take for granted that what you have today, without the same level of protections, will be what you have tomorrow. I think people get used to what they have … and we have seen time after time that there are no guarantees without vigilance and protections.
SB: Do you know of any organizations, whether they be local, state, federal, that community members can contact to learn more about net neutrality or how they can aid in this effort?
MC: I would say look up the parties that are filing in the open internet lawsuit. There are a number of grassroots organizations that are filing. I have to be careful, you know, I’m not going to mention any particular entity, but I think the safest place is to look at who’s filing against the FCC and that would give individuals a pretty good picture as to who, and chances are, with a number of them, they have local chapters, particularly in this state. You can probably understand why I can’t show preference, but there are a number of them.