When a group of five people convened in Washington D.C. on December 14, 2017, their primary goal as commissioners for the Federal Communications Commission was to vote on whether to overturn the 2015 regulations governing the internet commonly known as Net Neutrality, which supported "the idea that Internet service providers (ISPs) should treat all data that travels over their networks fairly, without improper discrimination in favor of particular apps, sites or services".
The controversy leading up to the FCC's decision to kill Net Neutrality included accusations by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai that Twitter was using its platform to discriminate against those who agreed with Pai's agenda and his own commisioner accusing Pai of ignoring investment data that did not fit his narrative as well as the request of more than two dozen Senators that the hearing be delayed until reports could be investigated that more than 1 million comments submitted to the FCC were written by bots and included comments from deceased persons.
While most consumers were most aware of concerns that major providers like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T would throttle access to competitor's content and make it easier for those providers to sell personal data about consumers, those tasked with upgrading technology in our cities were also concerned that the decision could make it harder for citizens to use new technology tools to access city information and services and for city's to deploy and maintain internet-dependent smart city technology.
Here is how four government leaders shaping the technology for their cities view the challenges ahead with this rollback of Net Neutrality.
Miguel Gamiño Jr., New York City, New York
"The FCC's vote to dismantle Net Neutrality handed the keys to the Internet over to a few ISPs," says Miguel Gamiño, Jr., New York City Chief Technology Officer. "This represents a stark, inexplicable, and unwarranted attack on our communities, residents and businesses - on everyone who hopes to have a fair chance to shape and participate in our future."
In fact, Gamiño traveled to Washington D.C. to broadcast live updates during the FCC's vote on December 14. Gamiño's strong advocacy to protect Net Neutrality comes not only from his role in New York but his previously similar roles in San Francisco and El Paso.
He adds that this is only the beginning of the city's fight against the FCC's ruling. "In NYC, under the leadership of Mayor de Blasio, our work is only beginning. We must keep up the fight to protect an open internet. While the FCC stepped back, but New York City will keep stepping forward."
Jonathan Reichental, Palo Alto, California
"The repeal of net neutrality rules has just happened, so it's too early to understand the full consequences of this dramatic decision. There will be months of legal challenges ahead until the decision is settled, so we'll need to watch this space closely. And even then, long term repeal may not withstand future federal administrations," says Dr. Jonathan Reichental, who serves as Chief Information Officer for the City of Palo Alto, California.
He adds that America must continue to "focus on technological competitiveness in a world where global market barriers to entry are flatter than ever. Innovation is particularly necessary in the urban space. That work will require an open and blazingly fast Internet infrastructure. Anything that limits this future is bad for innovation and bad for America."
Peter Ambs, Albuquerque, New Mexico
"The repeal of Net Neutrality by the FCC is disheartening," says Peter Ambs, who has been the chief architect of the city's deployment of smart city technologies over the past decade which has earned the city multiple awards.
He add that the city's new Mayor, Tim Keller, is committed to expanding affordable and ubiquitous access to Broadband and Internet Services in Albuquerque. "We aim to close the digital inclusion gap, not widen it. This ruling does not inspire confidence that our City residents won't be harmed and limited based on ability to pay. We applaud the efforts of the New Mexico Attorney General and other prosecutors around the country in challenging the FCC ruling."
Jonathan Feldman, Asheville, North Carolina
But not all CIO's share the same perspective of the FCC's vote. Jonathan Feldman, who serves as CIO for Asheville, North Carolina, is one such leader.
"I think that net neutrality is a distraction issue. The real issue, I believe, is a lack of the Federal government's willingness to enforce existing anti-trust laws. It is clear that there is cronyism and collusion in the broadband world - but that nobody will do anything about it," he says. "
Feldman says he is more of a fan of building competition through European-Style unbundling where regulations prohibit the same entity from serving both the middle mile and last mile. "This would produce more competition in the last mile, which is really what counts. If there really were lots of choices for broadband the way that there are lots of choices for other things, we wouldn't be having this debate about net neutrality. Broadband providers that start nonsense like charging people extra for using Netflix would simply find themselves with fewer customers."