On Thursday, the Federal Communication Commission voted to repeal net neutrality regulations, which the U.S. bishops have called essential to fair use of the internet by for nonprofits and individuals.
“Without open internet principles which prohibit paid prioritization, we might be forced to pay fees to ensure that our high-bandwidth content receives fair treatment on the internet,” said Bishop Christopher Coyne, Chairman of the USCCB’s Committee on Communications.
“Non-profit communities, both religious and secular, cannot afford to pay to compete with profitable commercialized content.”
The bishop’s statement was released on Nov. 28, after the FCC announced a proposal to repeal the protections, which were created in 2015. The rule was officially repealed on Dec. 14.
Net neutrality rules require internet service providers, like Comcast or AT&T, to provide equal access to the internet. This means internet providers cannot block, slow down, or charge for content from particular websites or web-based services.
For example, in 2007 Comcast was accused of providing slower internet service to subscribers who were using peer-to-peer file-sharing services. People using BitTorrent, which is a file-sharing network, claimed they had slower or blocked access when uploading files.
Net neutrality advocates have expressed concern that content providers who pay more money will be given better access to internet users, placing smaller companies and nonprofits at a disadvantage.
Bishop Coyne argued that fair access to the internet is critical for the Church to fulfill its mission in the modern world.
“Strong net neutrality protections are critical to the faith community to function and connect with our members, essential to protect and enhance the ability of vulnerable communities to use advanced technology, and necessary for any organization that seeks to organize, advocate for justice or bear witness in the crowded and over-commercialized media environment,” he wrote
Dioceses, schools, parishes, and other religious institutions, must have access to high-speed internet to not only to communicate internally, but also to spread the Gospel through media, he said.
Strong internet protections help the Church “to share religious and spiritual teachings, to promote activities online, and to engage people — particularly younger persons — in our ministries,” he said.
According to NPR, the FCC’s new chairman, Ajit Pai, said the regulations prevented companies from improving the internet by stifling investments, but net-neutrality advocates have said that ending the regulations will give too much power to internet providers.
“I have heard from innovators, worried that we are standing up a 'mother-may-I' regime, where the broadband provider becomes arbiter of acceptable online business models,” said Democratic FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, according to NPR.