Net neutrality supporter holding a placard

Rhode Island threatens to shun ISPs in latest bid to preserve ‘net neutrality’

Image credit: Reuters/Yuri Gripas

The move comes after Federal Communications Commission chairman Ajit Pai was reportedly sent death threats by people angry at moves they say would turn the internet into a series of fast and slow lanes.

Rhode Island has become the latest in an increasingly long line of US states to bring in legislation aimed at stopping firms from being able to pay to deliver content faster to some consumers.

The efforts come amid ongoing political rows over the issue of net neutrality and follow reports of death threats being aimed at Ajit Pai, Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Rhode Island joined the likes of New York, Nebraska, California, Massachusetts and Washington in introducing a law that aims to hit the profits of any Internet Service Provider (ISP) companies that decide to charge extra to fast-track certain content. 

Louis DiPalma, a Democratic Party member of the Rhode Island Senate, said the “open and equal internet” was under threat because of a decision by the FCC to repeal a set of rules that were introduced by President Barack Obama in 2015. These aim to prevent ISPs from blocking or deprioritising certain web content.

DiPalma said: “It was quite unfortunate that the FCC decided to repeal the net neutrality rules. These rules protected the consumer and web site owners from being discriminated against by the large internet service providers in favour of large corporations who could afford to pay for a different level of internet service, effectively choking small business owners and consumers with added costs.”

He added: “When net neutrality rules were enacted, it was ensured that everyone would have access to an open and equal internet. With the repeal of these rules, such open and fair access to the internet is in jeopardy.”   

Rhode Island and its municipalities will henceforth be prevented from entering into contracts with any ISP that engages in practices that would have been prohibited under the Obama-era rules.

Ajit Pai has become a hate figure for organisations opposed to the change. He reportedly pulled out of speaking at CES 2018 last week after some internet users threatened to kill him.

Pai was appointed FCC Commissioner by Barack Obama, but promoted to the chairmanship of the organisation by President Donald Trump.

The fact that Pai served a brief stint as a lawyer for communications giant Verizon 15 years ago has been seized on by opponents of plans to allow certain content to be prioritised by ISPs. They say his employment history casts doubt on his ability to behave impartially.

Pai has argued that the repeal of the net neutrality rules will free ISPs to innovate further and invest more in increasing network speeds and boosting the infrastructure on which the internet depends.

Following the FCC board’s vote in December, which marked the start of the repeal process, Pai said: “Let's be clear. Following today’s vote, Americans will still be able to access the web sites they want to visit.

“The main complaint consumers have about the internet is not and has never been that there are service providers blocking access to content. It’s that they don't have access at all or not enough competition.”

The announcement from Rhode Island follows representatives of Nebraska, California and other US states declaring that they are in the process of drafting legislation to continue protecting net neutrality following the FCC three-to-two vote to roll back federal regulations.

The widespread public opposition to the ‘net neutrality’ repeal followed concerted efforts by the biggest companies in Silicon Valley during 2017, culminating in a group of supporters in Congress writing a formal letter to the FCC demanding that the final vote in December be delayed, due to strong evidence of fraud in the public consultation on the issue.

It has been clearly shown that the identities of thousands of US citizens had been stolen and unlawfully used to vote in favour of the repeal proposals. Thousands of identical comments - also supposedly endorsing the proposals - have also been identified as having been automatically posted by bots, originating from IP addresses outside the US. 400,000 comments alone supposedly in support of net neutrality came from a single address in Russia.

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