The internet could be a very different place by January if the Federal Communications Commission votes to change essential rules that govern how it works.
The FCC is set to vote Thursday, Dec. 14 on whether to repeal rules ensuring net neutrality, the principle that internet service providers (ISPs) like AT&T and Comcast should treat all content equally regardless of where it is hosted.
Net neutrality proponents say the internet should be treated like a utility. Under current net neutrality rules, ISPs cannot block some websites or make them load more slowly. Proponents worry that free, equal access to information will be limited if net neutrality rules are repealed.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed new rules in a letter on Nov. 21.
"Under my proposal, the federal government will stop micromanaging the Internet," the letter says. "Instead, the FCC would simply require Internet service providers to be transparent about their practices so that consumers can buy the service plan that’s best for them and entrepreneurs and other small businesses can have the technical information they need to innovate."
Three of the five FCC commissioners are Republicans, causing many to believe the agency will pass Pai’s recommendation, which is favored largely by conservatives.
However, Congress has the ability to influence the FCC’s vote.
Members of Congress can pressure the FCC to delay its vote and consider other options or, through a congressional resolution of disapproval, Congress can reverse the agency’s actions. This happens frequently, as Congress has overturned more than a dozen regulatory actions from the Obama administration since President Donald Trump took office, The New York Times reported.
In a typical move, the FCC asked the public to comment on their net neutrality opinions months before Thursday's schedule vote. But now, the attorneys general of 19 states, including Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia have asked the FCC to delay the vote. They allege a number of the comments were fraudulent.
"It is essential that the Commission gets a full and accurate picture of how changes to net neutrality will affect the everyday lives of Americans before they can act on such sweeping policy changes," the letter said.
The letter did not detail how many fake comments may have been submitted, or which sides the fraudulent comments supported.
News4 asked 13 senators and members of Congress in our area for their stance on net neutrality. Ten of the politicians said they support net neutrality, one is opposed, one said he has not taken a stance yet and one did not respond to requests for comment.
Here's what they said:
Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC)
D.C. Delegate Norton co-signed a letter on Apr. 4 urging Pai to maintain current net neutrality rules. “Strong net neutrality rules have worked to keep the internet free from discrimination against users, regardless of their race or economic status,” the letter says.
Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA)
Sen. Warner has called on the FCC to investigate hundreds of thousands of fake comments collected during its comment period on the proposal to end net neutrality. Warner and other senators say these comments may have been produced by bots, and have resulted in an “incomplete understanding of the public record,” according to a Dec. 4 letter signed by 28 senators.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA)
Sen. Kaine signed the same letter as Sen. Warner, urging the FCC to delay its vote until after an investigation. Kaine and other senators also worry 50,000 consumer complaints filed against internet service providers have been excluded from the FCC’s repeal docket, the letter says.
Robert Wittman (R-VA), District 1
Rep. Wittman supports the FCC’s call to rescind current neutrality rules. “I believe Chairman Pai’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order would return us to the successful, market-based framework under which the Internet developed and flourished, and would preserve Internet freedom for all Americans,” Wittman said in a statement issued Dec. 1.
Donald Beyer (D-VA), District 8
The Virginia Democrat supports net neutrality rules established under the Obama administration. “By ending net neutrality, the FCC and the Trump administration are siding with telecom giants against internet freedom,” Beyer said in a statement issued Nov. 21.
Barbara Comstock (R-VA), District 10
Rep. Comstock did not respond to requests for comment.
Gerry Connolly (D-VA). District 11
Rep. Connolly is an advocate for net neutrality. “I support net neutrality because it is the only way to ensure a free and open internet,” the congressman told News4 in an email Dec. 5.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-MD)
The senator has called on the FCC to protect net neutrality. “The FCC’s idea of internet freedom means freedom for providers to decide what the public can see and can do on the internet,” Cardin said in a statement issued Nov. 21. “This is not freedom for consumers, as net neutrality envisioned. This is bowing to corporate interests, once again, which seems to be emblematic of this Trump era.”
Sen. Van Hollen (D-MD)
Sen. Van Hollen is a vocal net neutrality supporter. “The FCC’s plan to destroy #NetNeutrality is shameful,” Van Hollen said in a tweet April 26. “We should be putting American consumers first, not corporations.” The congressman also signed onto a letter with other senators on Sep. 21 asking Pai to rethink his proposal.
Anthony Brown (D-MD), District 4
The Maryland congressman supports net neutrality. “An open internet is critical to our economy and our way of life,” Brown said in a Facebook post Nov. 21. “It has unlocked new opportunities, brought communities closer together that has led to remarkable innovation, entrepreneurship and growth.”
Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), District 5
Rep. Hoyer has not yet taken a stance on net neutrality, according to a representative from his office.
John Delaney (D-MD), District 6
Rep. Delaney is in favor of keeping the internet free and open. “I am strongly opposed to the FCC’s plans to roll back net neutrality standards,” the congressman told News4 in an email Dec. 5. “I am concerned that ending net neutrality will be bad for consumers and that it could hinder the dynamic innovation we see online, which has been so important to our economy and to entrepreneurship.”
Jamie Raskin (D-MD), District 8
The Maryland congressman is supportive of net neutrality. He signed a letter with other House Democrats calling upon the FCC to maintain current net neutrality rules. “Hands off #netneutrality,” Raskin said in a tweet April 4.
Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of NBCUniversal, which owns this television station.