Mignon L. Clyburn, a Democratic commissioner on the FCC, told ABC News, “I’m worried, I’m absolutely worried,” after the agency voted in December to rescind net neutrality regulations imposed in 2015 under President Barack Obama to govern how internet service providers treat content and data.
“The world is watching everything we do ... People are watching. If they see that we’re allowing companies to do as they will, the FCC will no longer be the cop on the beat,” she said during a conversation at Nexus Global's USA Summit with ABC News’ David Kerley.
Net neutrality means ‘you are in control’
Net neutrality is the principle that internet service providers treat all content equally and not give preference to some digital content providers. That means the consumer can load every website, app, video or .gif equally, regardless of who hosts the content.
Under President Obama, the FCC voted in February 2015 to classify consumer broadband service as a public utility under Title II Order of the 1934 Communications Act.
Clyburn told Kerley at the summit that under the Title II framework, “You, not the government, not an internet service provider, you are in control through the most empowering tool of our time."
“No matter how much we advance, you need to be protected,” she told the audience at the event. “Internet service providers should not be your gateway or the key to the internet," and the FCC should “be the referee on the field.”
‘People are just so aware’ of the issue
The FCC’s rollback of the net neutrality rules was met with controversy, with critics saying the reversal could lead to the creation of different speed lanes for certain websites or content creators, with higher prices for faster speeds -- and consumers incurring higher costs for internet use.
Clyburn said net neutrality is crucial due to the internet’s importance to connecting the world.
“When you talk about how important connectivity and access to the world is, this is why this issue is so important," she said. "This is why people are just so aware, emotional, and expressive when it comes to net neutrality. It is a building block. It is us growing and exploring and advancing through that foundation.”
Without net neutrality, she said, internet service providers “can almost direct what you see or make sure there are certain things you don’t see that is not in their economic or political advantage.”
“No matter how much we advance, you need to be protected,” she told the audience. “Internet service providers should not be your gateway or the key to the internet," adding, that the FCC should “be the referee on the field.”
Innovation and net neutrality
Supporters of rescinding the Obama-era rules said the move will allow greater innovation.
Clyburn took issue with that argument, saying, “The most aggressive amount of innovation, of infrastructure investment happened under a Title II framework.”
“From 1993 until 2009 we have seen $271 billion worth of investment when it comes to mobile broadband,” she said. “Our framework in Title II is the strongest legal authority we have to make sure that investment flows.”
States are challenging the FCC ruling
The FCC member noted that many states are fighting the FCC decision.
“There are 22 states that are going to challenge us,” she said. “Pay attention to what they are doing.”
“There are opportunities to talk to local lawmakers and officials,” she added. “This is about the FCC’s ability to encourage infrastructure investment and what that means to those communities that are going to be negatively impacted by us pulling away from Title II.”
“The battle is not over. The FCC does not have the final word, and I am so happy for that."
ABC News’ Jeffrey Cook contributed to this report.