WASHINGTON—The Federal Communications Commission’s decision today to begin dissolving protections for net neutrality will have an outsize impact on artists, writers, and other innovators in the United States who depend on free and open access to the internet to exercise their right to create and speak, PEN America said in a statement today.

The FCC, led by Trump-appointed Chair Ajit Pai, voted today to begin the process of rolling back Obama-era rules that prevent large internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast or Verizon from using their dominance in the market to gouge small innovators or discriminate against content providers. The vote means that ISPs could slow down or block lawful content because it expresses a disfavored viewpoint or the creator lacks the resources to pay extra to reach the ISP’s customers faster.

The FCC voted along party lines to continue the process of repealing rules put in place under President Obama and then-FCC Chair Tom Wheeler that classified ISPs as “common carriers,” similar to utilities like landline phone service. While the FCC refused to regulate ISPs fully as common carriers, using the commission’s ability to apply only certain rules (known legally as “forbearance”), the rules it did enforce bar ISPs from disfavoring or providing an unfair advantage to lawful internet traffic.

Absent these regulations, ISPs would be able to create internet “fast lanes” where content providers who pay a premium would have their data transmitted to users at higher speeds.  Doing so would also create an incentive for ISPs to artificially encourage “traffic jams” on their networks to force content providers to pay for the faster “toll” lane.  Such a system would unfairly force small start-ups and other innovators to pay for their content or services to reach ISPs’ customers as fast as larger, deep-pocketed competitors, thus harming competition in the market for content.

“Over the last two decades, the web has become the common meeting ground for audiences worldwide to find and share ideas and information. Writers, artists, and creators everywhere now depend on an internet where they have equal access to possible consumers of their work,” said Gabe Rottman, PEN America’s Washington director.  “In a world where customers have little choice in where they get their internet, net neutrality is imperative to the free flow of information.  Today’s vote runs directly counter to deeply-held American values.”

In April, PEN America joined the Daily Kos and other organizations in a major effort to solicit public comments to the FCC before the May 18 vote, garnering nearly 300,000 comments in support of net neutrality. 

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PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.

CONTACT Sarah Edkins, Director of Communications: +1 646-779-4830, sedkins@pen.org