The FCC voted to repeal the Obama era regulations ensuring that internet service providers (ISPs) could not alter the connection speeds of certain apps and websites. A narrow 3-2 vote along partisan margins removed assurances that ISPs would not interfere with the internet as they saw fit. Effectively, this vote allows companies that distribute broadband services to decide how their networks will be deployed, meaning that certain companies can now choose what services will get the bandwidth necessary to effectively function. This vote does not ensure that these ISPs will actually change anything, but it does give them the choice. At worst, the FCC’s vote represents a political actualization of a years long financial gambit undertaken by the most powerful corporations in America to profit from an internet that they now control; “do what you want, Comcast, ‘cause we won’t stop you.”
There is a last chance option to save a free and open internet: a Senate rule known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under this rule’s authority, the Senate has the power to override a new rule passed by the vote of any federal agency, including the FCC. The CRA allows for a newly adopted federal agency rule to be brought to a vote on the Senate floor via a petition of 30 senators. Once the petition has been submitted, any member of the Senate may call an open vote with only a simple majority needed to pass. Furthermore, this vote has a mandated limit of 10 hours debate, making it filibuster-proof. Therefore, as highlighted in a recent BGR media article, an opposition petition could stifle the controversial FCC’s decision.
Today, 30 signatories were acquired to put the CRA up for a vote. It is up to constituents to make their voices heard and make sure their representatives overturn the FCC’s decision.
Scientists rely on the free spread of information in order to collaborate, share data, and disseminate their findings. So the clearest and most present risk is that if communication is hampered, some scientists might not be able to afford to keep up. An editorial published in Nature identified data sharing as something likely to be affected. Want to send your data from the telescope in Chile to the lab in New Haven? Hopefully you allocated funds to pay Comcast for the transfer of those terabytes. Want to upload all of your beautiful RNAseq data to create a database available to the community? With any luck your collaborators paid for the appropriate Internet speed package to access it. Science does not happen within the confines of a single laboratory, and oftentimes not even within national boundaries. In the US, to receive NIH support you need to prove that you can share your findings. How would this vote to end net neutrality make it harder to fulfill these obligations? In the end, we don’t really know yet, and we have no solid assurances that it wouldn’t. Call your Senators. Demand a free Internet for the sake of scientific progress.