Broadcasts of the sit-in held at the House of Representatives this past Wednesday are only the most recent example of the fundamental value of Internet service in times of political strife. And a June 14 decision by the Court of Appeals in D.C. upheld the government’s assertion that Internet broadband service is a utility, not a commodity for which providers can decide who gets prioritized, or faster, delivery.
The idea of “net neutrality” and democracy of access was inherent in the ‘Net’s original design, said Jennifer Holt, a UCSB associate professor and researcher of digital media infrastructure policy. For providers like AT&T and Verizon, which had appealed the Federal Communications Commission’s 2015 decision that Internet service providers (ISPs) delivered a public utility, a more profitable business model was to be able to “favor their own services, or allow them to collect higher fees for prioritized carriage,” Holt was quoted in a UCSB press release.
Despite forecasts by companies like Comcast that net neutrality would result in fewer investments in Internet infrastructure, the appeals court agreed with consumer groups, tech giants like Google, and the Obama administration that the common carrier, or public utility, designation for wired and wireless Internet services was important public policy. The ISP companies are expected to head next to the Supreme Court.
In the events of the 25-hour sit-in earlier this week, House Republicans turned off the sanctioned televised stream and recessed during the Democrats’ protest, which was led by civil rights warrior Representative John Lewis of Georgia. Democrats turned to online streaming sources and their smart phones to broadcast beyond the Capitol their determination to force a vote on gun control. Though the House reconvened long enough to pass a $1.1 billion Zika virus bill, the session adjourned till after the Fourth of July with no vote on the bill to prevent gun purchases by people on two government “watch” lists. The Democrats’ new slogan is that NRA stands for “No Republican Action,” reported the New York Times.