After years of lobbying by the telecom industry, FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai yesterday announced plans to overturn consumer protections implemented by the Obama administration in 2015 that block internet service providers (ISPs), such as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T, from discriminating against the content distributed through their services. These protections, known as Net Neutrality, are essential to maintain a free, fair, and democratic internet: without them, ISPs can block, censor, and slow down content that is produced by a competitor or a third-party, such as Netflix or Amazon video, who chooses not to pay extra access fees. And those fees will then be passed along to you. This new plan would also directly hinder the development and growth of small online businesses, such as Etsy, who fear that only the largest companies will be able to afford the expense of giving their sites preferential treatment.
Glenn Thompson has yet to release a statement on this FCC flip-flop, but we already know where he stands on the issue: in March of 2015, after the FCC announced the original consumer protections, he took to the House floor and aped the position of the telecom industry, arguing that protecting your pocketbooks from hidden fees and small, innovative online businesses was trying to “fix a problem that simply does not exist” and represented “a dangerous and reckless disregard for free-market principles.”
Glenn knows that these are lies. Telecom companies have a long history of abusing their market positions and promoting anti-competitive behavior that limits the access consumers have to the products they want. Prior to the implementation of the 2015 protections, Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon were all found to be blocking third-party applications, such as Skype, Google Wallet, and FaceTime. Customers were instead forced to use apps from their ISPs, which often offered inferior functionality at higher prices. These standard business practices, re-legalized just two years after being banned, will lead directly to slower service and a continuing lack of real choice for consumers, will only serve to further line the pockets of some of the most profitable corporations in America, and are directly antithetical to the free-market principles that Glenn pretends to champion.
Rolling back these protections is particularly troubling given the recent trend of increasing consolidation in the telecom and media sector. In 2013, Comcast bought NBCUniversal for $16 billion, giving it control over NBC News, MSNBC, CNBC, E!, USA Network, and Universal Pictures. In 2014 and 2015, Verizon purchased AOL and Yahoo for over $9 billion, giving it control over the Huffington Post, Yahoo News, Tumblr, and Flickr. In 2015, AT&T bought DirectTV for $49 billion, and is currently attempting to purchase Time Warner for $85 billion, which would give it control over properties such as HBO, Warner Bros., and CNN. Combined with the rollback of Net Neutrality’s consumer protections, these mergers would give ISPs unprecedented incentive and authority to block consumers from reading the news and watching the movies we want. Columbia Law professor Tim Wu has characterized the new rules as giving “Comcast and Verizon full censorial powers over [the] internet akin to [the] Chinese government.” I’m proud to have been one of Prof. Wu’s students in law school.
Unfettered access to an independent press is one of the core principles our country is founded upon and is key to the healthy functioning of democracy. Yet, Glenn has said nothing about these mergers and their impacts on Pennsylvanians.
We should not be surprised by Glenn’s silence. We should also not be surprised that he has sided with the telecommunication industry, rather than the people of the Fifth District. Since 2008, Glenn has received $59,500 from Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon. In March of this year, Glenn voted for a bill that would allow your Internet service provider to track your online activities and sell your personal information—your browsing history, location data, app usage history, and Social Security number—without your knowledge. This bill also loosened rules that required these corporations to protect your data from hackers and thieves, leaving you at a higher risk than ever before.
Glenn has voted against your right to access the news and media you want to see. He’s voted to allow corporations to sell your private information to the highest bidder, and he’s lowered the bar for cybersecurity, ensuring that you have less protection against hackers that want to steal your identity. Greedy Glenn only cares about one thing: getting himself re-elected, which is why he’s accepted tens of thousands of dollars in contributions from the same ISPs that are ripping you off.
I am running for Congress because it is time that the Fifth District has a representative who will push back against corporate abuse and fight to ensure that the Internet remains a free and open marketplace for ideas and content. I am running for Congress to drain the swamp and ensure that We the People, rather than corporations, are the ones in charge.