Do you consider access to the Internet as a necessary utility?
If you answered no, I hate to break this to you, but the F.C.C. thinks you’re wrong. At least they did, until earlier this month.
In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission ruled that broadband Internet is not luxury service for American, but rather an essential one that should be available to all. The ruling, which was contested in court by cable, telecom and wireless internet providers only to be upheld in 2016, seemed to be a major step to bridging the digital divide. It was taken further in March 2016 when the F.C.C. finalized a plan to subsidized Internet access for low-income households.
But with a new President, usually, comes a new head of the F.C.C. and now, it appears, we may be, once again, stumbling backward. Ajit Pai, the new chairman of the F.C.C., stop some of these progressive efforts, stating that they were “beyond the agency’s legal authority.”
Pai, previously a commissioner of the agency since his nomination in 2012, stated that he was for a “free and open Internet” and sees the closing of the digital divide as a top priority, but disagrees with the classification of it as a utility, meaning that it will not have to be as highly regulated. The fear of net-neutrality advocates is that this decrease in regulations will result in high service prices and decreased access to certain sites. And as the digital divide regards the access to Internet, and income is one of the main social factors leading to its creation, it seems that for the digital divide to truly diminish, some aspects of net neutrality, and its regulations, must be enforced.
Only time will tell how Pai will proceed in regards to net neutrality and the digital divide. While he has remained mostly silent regarding neutrality related policies, he has, to his credit, discussed alternative ways to bring high-speed broadband access to low-income areas and stated that this initiative is his highest priority. Let us just hope it stays that way.