Since the FCC under Trump eliminated net neutrality in 2017, our previously free and open internet is now subject to corporate censorship. And millions of people already could not access broadband to begin with because it remains unaffordable and inaccessible to many communities, especially communities of color and those in rural or low-income areas.

Equitable access to a free and open internet depends on what we do right now. The ACLU is calling on President Biden to nominate a new FCC chair who will restore net neutrality protections and ensure broadband access for all. We’re also pressing Congress to pass the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act to bolster broadband efforts.

Chad Marlow, senior policy counsel and Kate Ruane, senior legislative counsel are here to break down why net neutrality and broadband are urgent priorities and how to fight for our right to a free, open, and accessible internet.

Questions? We’ll be here at 1pm ET on Friday, May 21 with answers.

Ask us anything!

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Comments: 336 • Responses: 14  • Date: 

CrassostreaVirginica78 karma

So, there was a massive outcry (at least on the internet) against the removal of net neutrality protections back during the Trump Administration.

What were the actual outcomes? Did we, in fact, see throttling to different websites?

aclu-58 karma

Thanks for your question. We always expected that the ISP companies would be subtle about their throttling (slowing down) and blocking of websites, so they would not provoke a massive backlash (we predicted that correctly here). That being said, we have caught them from time to time slowing down internet access, as Verizon did with firefighters in the middle of a California wildfire. In the end, when you notice your internet is running slow, it is hard to know if you have a bad connection, or if ISP companies are at work. That is the challenge. The best way to proceed is to prohibit those bad practices altogether. - Chad

pi_over_364 karma

Since the repeal of Net Neutrality it has been clear that the fearmongers were proven wrong, and the threat of online speech isn't from ISPs, but from the big 5 tech giants.

Why are you still pursuing NN, rather than been a pivot to the real issue?

aclu-39 karma

They are both threats. - Chad

gianthooverpig49 karma

Is there anyone attempting to get free and equal access to the Internet regulated as an essential utility like water or electricity?

aclu-1 karma

Is there anyone attempting to get free and equal access to the Internet regulated as an essential utility like water or electricity?

Thanks for this! Yes. Lots of folks are looking into this including us. If the FCC reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service - which it absolutely must do to restore net neutrality - that will also give the FCC the authority to regulate broadband as a public utility - just like telephone service. They could even do rate regulation. At a minimum they could strengthen their existing programs - like Lifeline - that help people afford broadband.

It's unclear whether the FCC will consider doing full rate regulation of broadband. But we think the FCC should look at all of its options to ensure broadband access is open AND affordable for all. - Kate

SkyezOpen43 karma

I've heard anecdotes about ISPs only providing full advertised speeds to certain speed testing websites. Will restoring net neutrality fix that? Additionally, do you know of a way to measure internet speed outside of those testing sites?

aclu-7 karma

Excellent question. While I do not know if that is true (from personal experience, it sure feels like it!), the answer is *yes*, under net neutrality, ISPs cannot provide faster or slower internet speeds to websites based on their content, so that would prohibit providing faster web speeds to websites that measure internet connection speeds. - Chad

CaptainDarkstar4220 karma

What have been the consequences of the end of net neutrality since 2017? Also, if we want to get involved with the ACLU, what's the best way to go about that?

aclu-20 karma

Great questions. For your consequences question, see my answer above. The best way to help out the ACLU in our efforts to restore net neutrality right now would be to tweet at President Biden and the acting FCC chair, asking them to prioritize restoring net neutrality. The first move is President Biden's, who must appoint a new FCC commissioner to fill a vacancy that will give us the 3-2 vote we need to start to restore net neutrality (what is he waiting for?!?!). This blog has more information and the Twitter handles of our targets. If we get enough pressure from people like you, WE WILL WIN! - Chad

CaptainDarkstar4234 karma

While I appreciate the example above, could you give more examples of what ISPs have been doing now that net neutrality has been thrown out the window? I'm asking because so far the end of net neutrality hasn't seemed as apocalyptic as was theorized.

aclu10 karma

This blog gives some more examples.

gianthooverpig19 karma

Have there been any challenges to the abolition of Net Neutrality so far? What legal action is underway and what approach are you or others taking to get it reinstated?

aclu21 karma

There have been challenges to the last repeal based on fraud in the process (the ISPs generated 8.5 million fake comments to the FCC in favor of repeal). You can read about that here. In truth, I think getting the FCC to restore net neutrality provides a far better approach at this point, if only the President would prioritize the issue. - Chad

fuzzycuffs1 karma

How have things changed since Ajit Pai stepped down/got fired? I hope for the better...

aclu-2 karma

The good news there is that a pro-net neutrality acting FCC chair was appointed and we now have an FCC vacancy which, when filled with a pro-net neutrality commissioner, will give us a 3-2 FCC vote spilt IN FAVOR of restoring net neutrality.

NOW, if only the President would fill the vacancy (cue sound of crickets chirping). - Chad

y0ud0ntkn0wm31 karma

Thank you for your time! Do you think the current administration will get us up to speed (pardon the pun) and bring down prices? What are infrastructure timeline goals?

aclu-8 karma

Thank you for your time! Do you think the current administration will get us up to speed (pardon the pun) and bring down prices? What are infrastructure timeline goals?

Thanks for your question! The Administration is working to "get us up to speed" and bring down prices. President Biden announced that within the American Jobs Plan, there will be $100 billion dollars for access to broadband.

That's a big deal because that is the amount we believe is needed to ensure that broadband access can be deployed to every household in the country.

But that's not enough. The biggest barrier to accessing broadband is actually affordability. In a family of four with expenses of around $6500 a month and an average income $2000 less than expenses, people just can't afford it.

Programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which gives low income families and those impacted by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic a $50 subsidy to purchase broadband, are giving people relieve and help in the short term. But we need a permanent affordability solution that will help families get connected and stay connected regardless of their income level or any other factor, like whether they choose to have children. We are working to make sure that a permanent solution is part of upcoming legislative efforts, which we hope to see before the end of this year.

- Kate

theorial28 karma

Where do you get the $6500/month expenses for a family of four figure? That seems like an amount for middle-upper class people to have but not for the poor class who can't afford internet.

Just adding up what our family is roughly paying per month I can only come up with about $2,500-3000. We aren't poor but we aren't rich. That's mortgage, 1 car payment, eletric, water, gas, TV, internet, food, and assorted subscriptions. I didn't include anything medical though which even then would only add maybe a couple hundred, which is why I put in a $500 gap.

aclu-9 karma

Check out this blog post we wrote with Brandeis Marshall:

The expenses are for a family located in Washington, DC.

astroblade1 karma

Could you talk about how the legal, technology, and analytics teams work together to address issues like net neutrality and broadband access? I tend to think about the ACLU as a strictly legal entity but there must be a lot of cooperation behind the scenes between the legal experts and the domain experts. Thanks!

aclu-7 karma

Sure. The ACLU has a team of litigators who use the courts to advance civil rights and liberties issues - so in a case like net neutrality, we might join a lawsuit defending the rights of states to pass their own net neutrality laws. We also have a team of policy, campaigning, and organizing experts who work on passing laws and regulations that protect and expand civil rights and liberties, so in the net neutrality context, we would be advocating for state an federal net neutrality laws and gubernatorial executive orders. These teams at our national offices are mirrored by similar teams in our affiliate offices in all 50 states plus D.C. and Puerto Rico. Our national and some affiliate offices employ technologists who help ACLU folks, judges, and policymakers better understand the technologies that are at the center of our legal and advocacy efforts. We have analytics teams that help us with original research and analysis to back our work with hard, reliable data to support our positions. We have communications teams, who help spread our pro-civil rights and liberties messages and work to the world (like through this AMA - thanks comms folks!). Finally, and most importantly, we have members and supporters who more than ever engage in direct advocacy in support of our work, and boy do those numbers matter in moving public and political opinion. So thanks so very much to all of you!!! - Chad

[deleted]0 karma


aclu1 karma

Thanks for this question. Unfortunately, at this point, the available subsidy programs like the Emergency Broadband Benefit, will not fund infrastructure build out to my knowledge.

But hope is not lost! Immediately, you could look into building your own network.

We realize that's not ideal and takes a lot of work, though. That's why we're fighting in Congress to enact the Accessible, Affordable, Internet for all Act which would ensure sufficient investment in future proof broadband networks that would extend to every household. You can advocate for that bill too by going to this link:

Or contacting your Congressmembers!

- Kate

roseyrosho-6 karma

Thank you for doing this AMA.

Despite the overwhelming public support for Net Neutrality, Ajit Pai and the FCC still overturned net neutrality rules. Given this blatant disregard for public opinion, what will it take to bring them back and how can average citizens help aside from relentlessly contacting our representatives?

Follow-up question, while this AMA centers around Net Neutrality, is the ACLU working towards other issues in tech affecting our civil liberties? Particularly algorithmic issues of bias in AI and privacy concerns behind commercial data-mining being sold to law enforcement without a warrant?

aclu6 karma

Here's the good news on restoring net neutrality now that Pai and Trump are gone: we have the President we need to appoint the FCC we need to restore net neutrality. The process may take more than a year from start to finish, but we have a path to get there. Here's the bad news: Biden has had the ability to nominate the tie breaking FCC commissioner for months and he hasn't done so. That's a weird lack of action from a President who is supposed to care about intellectual freedom and oppose corporate censorship. Until Biden acts, we need to keep questioning his motives for not doing so. - Chad

aclu4 karma

Follow-up question, while this AMA centers around Net Neutrality, is the ACLU working towards other issues in tech affecting our civil liberties? Particularly algorithmic issues of bias in AI and privacy concerns behind commercial data-mining being sold to law enforcement without a warrant?

Yes! We are. We firmly believe that we need strong consumer privacy protections at the federal level and that civil rights protections MUST be a part of any new federal law.

We are also pushing the FTC and other federal agencies to use their existing authority to combat bias in algorithmic decisionmaking systems that have an impact on access to economic and other opportunities. And our colleagues in the legal department led this groundbreaking litigation against Facebook: We are continuing to build on that work in many ways.