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!

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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3 replies on “VICTORY!!! FCC votes to adopt strong Net Neutrality rules to protect the Internet”

  1. I still can’t believe this hap­pened. How long have pro­gres­sives been work­ing for net neu­tral­i­ty? Ten years? Fif­teen years? 

    I’m so used to mock­ing and derid­ing the FCC, I hard­ly know what to do with myself. I feel like danc­ing a good jig! 

  2. The FCC final­ly sides with the peo­ple instead of big cor­po­ra­tions. It’s a miracle. 

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