God in the Machine: The Role of Religion in Net Neutrality Debates

Publication Type: 
Other Writing
Publication Date: 
February 24, 2015

The public movement to protect a free and open Internet is approaching a critical moment this week: on February 26, the Federal Communications Commission will vote whether to pass strong rules against corporate control of the Internet. For years, companies that manage America’s access to the Internet—corporate giants like Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner—have sparred with activists and the FCC for control of cyberspace. Advocates on both sides have debated net neutrality, the notion that all information, data, and content online should be treated the same and equally accessible to all.

At stake is whether more wealthy content providers (think: Netflix) should be able to pay for faster service while smaller, less wealthy start-ups, or personal websites are left behind in an Internet gridlock. President Obama supports FCC regulation of net neutrality, and polling shows that the majority of Americans across the political spectrum oppose Internet service providers (ISPs) charging some websites more for faster service. Last summer, nearly 4 million people submitted comments to the FCC, most of them urging the agency to pursue stronger net neutrality protections.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s plan, which five FCC commissioners will vote on this week, proposes to reclassify the Internet as a public utility like water or electricity, using Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1934, which could then treat the Internet as an unencumbered benefit for all citizens. This legal maneuver will enable the FCC to prohibit Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from censoring or prioritizing content or charging additional fees to some websites and video-streaming services.

The topic can be highly technical, and policy wonks, online startups, and public interest legal groups have understandably led much of the net neutrality movement over the past decade. But religious activists and organizers like us have also played a role in these changing debates. While largely Christian, religious groups have brought together strange bedfellows of progressive, faith-based activists and conservative religious organizations, from the Christian Coalition of America and the United Church of Christ to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All have spoken out for net neutrality, even if they do not necessarily share arguments or coalition actions.

Read the full piece at Religion and Politics