Organized money may be an increasingly powerful force in America and American politics, but today, organized people beat organized money to secure a historic, vital victory for Internet freedom in the United States of America.
Just minutes ago, the Federal Communications Commission’s Democratic majority voted to adopt strong net neutrality rules that will keep the Internet open and free for years to come. The FCC’s order emphatically codifies into law the principles that the Internet was founded upon many years ago.
The new rules, which classify broadband like the public utility it is, explicitly bar service providers like Comcast and Verizon from blocking, throttling, or prioritizing Internet traffic in exchange for money or consideration of any kind.
- No Blocking: Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Throttling: Providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Paid Prioritization: Broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no “fast lanes.”
The Commission’s two Republican members predictably voted no, after voicing their dissent on behalf of the Republican Party’s corporate masters.
But they were soundly rebuffed by Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler.
“I am incredibly proud of the process the Commission has run in developing today’s historic open Internet protections,” Wheeler said in his statement. “I say that not just as the head of this agency, but as a U.S. citizen. Today’s Open Internet Order is a shining example of American democracy at work.”
Acknowledging the more than four million Americans who wrote in to the FCC — nearly all of whom called for strong net neutrality rules — he added, “It should not be surprising the public engaged like never before, because the stakes of the debate before the Commission have never been higher.”
“Today, we better enable millions to tell their stories, reach their potential and realize their American ideals,” said Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, who stressed that reclassifying broadband as a utility will not cause problems for ISPs.
“Lest we forget, over seven hundred small broadband providers in rural America offer broadband Internet access pursuant to the full panoply of Title II regulation,” she reminded her colleagues. “They contribute to universal service and, amazingly, the sky has not fallen and things are okay. We have not regulated their rates, and I am unaware of any stream of class action lawsuits. Even so, the item does assert primary jurisdiction to reduce such concerns.”
“Sustaining what has made us innovative, fierce, and creative should not be a choice — it should be an obligation,” agreed Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
“We also have a duty—a duty to protect what has made the Internet the most dynamic platform for free speech ever invented. It is our printing press. It is our town square. It is our individual soapbox — and our shared platform for opportunity. That is why open Internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality.”
“We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online.”
“And we do not need blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it.”
As expected, the FCC’s vote was immediately met with the promise of a legal challenge from the lobbyists and lawyers who represent the likes of Verizon and Comcast. Publicly, the telecommunications lobby is suggesting it is ready to go to court again, and confident that the courts will overturn the rules.
Privately, the telecommunications lobby is seething. After all, this wasn’t supposed to happen. The FCC’s previous attempts to protect the Internet, which produced weak net neutrality rules, ended in failure because Verizon contested them in federal court and won. The courts made it clear to the FCC that if it wanted to use its authority to protect the Internet, it needed to adopt a sound regulatory framework. And that’s just what the FCC has now done.
The delicious irony is, Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast’s greed helped pave the way for today’s great victory. They didn’t want even weak net neutrality rules on the books, so they took the FCC to court and got the rules championed by previous Chairman Julius Genachowski thrown out. That forced the FCC to reconsider its approach.
Genacowski blew an opportunity to stand up to the telecommunications lobby and adopt strong net neutrality rules during his tenure as Chairman.
That legacy will instead belong to Tom Wheeler, who summoned the courage to stand up to the very lobby he used to work for. (Wheeler previously served as President of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and CEO of the Cellular Telecommunications & Internet Association.)
Thanks to Wheeler, who listened to the voices of the American people (ably channeled by President Barack Obama last November), we have stronger rules in place… rules that have a much better chance of surviving legal scrutiny.
Words can’t describe what a huge victory this is. Other champions for net neutrality have called it unthinkable and unimaginable. The FCC has been on the wrong path for so long that it seemed like strong net neutrality rules were an impossible dream. But we’ve got them. They’re here. They’re real.
This victory belongs to those who never gave up — to those who were determined to make what seemed impossible possible.
We at NPI are can-do people; we always have been and we always will be. We reject cynicism. Negativity and bitterness do not yield meaningful progressive change. We have always believed that strong net neutrality could happen and needed to happen. And now that is has, we rejoice in our success along with the many other wonderful organizations that have worked on this noble cause for so long.
We are particularly grateful for the work and advocacy of Sir Tim Berners-Lee, John Oliver and the writers of Last Week Tonight, Tim Karr, Craig Aaron and the team at FreePress, Fight for the Future, Becky Bond and the team at CREDO, Democracy for America, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, MoveOn, Mozilla, Reddit, Tumblr, Daily Kos, and Color of Change. All those people and organizations had a hand in this victory and we are very appreciative of their efforts.
Internet Freedom Day is here… let’s celebrate!