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Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal: FCC Rules Would Keep Internet Open

| February 11, 2015

Hope on the net neutrality front. (Joseph Gruber)

Hope on the net neutrality front. (Joseph Gruber)

By Matt Wood and Candace Clement

One of the greatest public policy victories in decades is just around the corner.

The issue? Net Neutrality — the principle that keeps Internet users in charge of their online experience.


FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has confirmed that he’ll base new Net Neutrality rules on Title II of the Communications Act, which will give the agency the strong authority it needs to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or interfering with online content. Wheeler described those rules as “the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.”

The Federal Communications Commission will vote on Wheeler’s proposal on February 26. In the meantime, companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon are lobbying hard to weaken it.

If the FCC ignores the industry pressure and approves Wheeler’s rules, activists who have fought for a decade to keep the Internet open will have plenty to celebrate.

Title II, which governs other communications networks like cellphones and land lines, ensures that carriers can’t discriminate against users. It protects our rights to transmit the information of our choosing between points of our choosing. It helps ensure that ordinary people get the same service big corporations do.

That means your telephone carrier can’t divert your call to Domino’s when you’re trying to dial your local pizzeria. And it means that your Internet service provider can’t make Wal-Mart’s website load faster than your local hardware store’s.

other-wordsWheeler’s embrace of Title II marks a huge leap forward after a series of stumbles. In fact, over the last decade, the FCC has made blunder after blunder in its attempts to protect the Internet’s level playing field.

The trouble began when industry lobbyists pushed the agency to declare that broadband providers no longer offered “telecommunications services” but “information services” — erasing the line between the Internet itself and the speech it conveys.

For a long time the FCC tried to have it both ways, preserving some protections for broadband users even though it had given away its authority to protect them. That’s why the FCC twice lost in court on its previous rules — not because the rules were bad, but because the FCC offered the wrong justification for them.

As the saying goes, when one door closes, another one opens. When a federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s previous open Internet rules last January, Net Neutrality supporters grabbed the opportunity to advocate for strong rules that could survive legal challenges.

Within two weeks of the decision, over a million people (the first of several million to take action) urged the FCC to fix the problem. The message: Just do Title II.

Title II doesn’t just restore principles of nondiscrimination. It also enables the FCC to preserve universal and affordable access, competition, and consumer protections for broadband users.

Lawmakers stuck in the industry’s pocket will try to tear this victory down. In turn, Internet service providers will search for ways to skirt the law — and they’ll sue to overturn it. But Internet users now stand on the strongest legal footing possible to win this fight in Congress and in the courts.

As more details about the FCC’s proposal emerge, the push from providers will become even more aggressive. And there’s plenty to watch out for as those details come to light.

But no one should underestimate the significance of a victory on Title II. Everything else will grow from this win.

Candace Clement is the Internet campaign director for Free Press, where Matt Wood serves as policy director.

A briefing on Wheeler’s proposed rule appears below, last year’s original proposal appears below that.

FCC Net Neutrality Rule (2015)

FCC Net Neutrality Rules (2015)

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16 Responses for “Net Neutrality’s Biggest Deal: FCC Rules Would Keep Internet Open”

  1. Outsider says:

    “As more details about the FCC’s proposal emerge, the push from providers will become even more aggressive. And there’s plenty to watch out for as those details come to light.”

    Does anyone have a problem with this statement, because I do? The “most transparent administration in history” is not releasing the plan until AFTER it’s approved. This is a sweeping change of what has been the most unregulated communications tool in recent history, and they won’t let the public see it. Let me guess: they are going to tax Internet? Of course they are, that’s why they won’t let us see it. I guess they have to pass the bill to find out what’s in it, which is the most idiotic statement ever uttered by a so-called representative o the people. I bet they’re going to try to enforce net neutrality, where the Governemnt will make sure all ideas posted on the Internet are “fair.” If you are wondering what your government has in mind for you in this 300 plus page law crafted not by Congress, but by the president himself and his three “independent” but Democrat appointed cronies on the FCC, you will be forced to wait until you can’t do anything about it.

    • Nancy N. says:

      The FCC doesn’t pass “bills” like Congress does – it is a rulemaking body. That’s a very different thing. It doesn’t have the ability to create taxes, as only Congress can do that. So no, there is no new tax in these rules that they are trying to hide.

      You need to do some research on what the concept of net neutrality means. It doesn’t have anything to do with what is posted on the internet. It means that internet service providers have to treat all data that is carried by their systems equally (neutrally) – they can’t treat your little website any different from Google when carrying the data traffic.

      Without net neutrality, big sites would be able to pay for priority on the internet. Small sites (like this one) would be held hostage by internet service providers, basically creating a class system on the internet. Google would load 100x faster than your local news provider, because they would pay your internet service provider to make sure that is the case. Information on the internet would be provided by those with the deepest pockets, not the best content.

      It is imperative for the future of the internet that net neutrality is preserved. Otherwise, the varied and vibrant community of content – the freedom! – that we know there today will disappear.

  2. Rick Gardner says:

    This is a huge issue that certainly deserves much more coverage. Thanks Flagler Live.. If you truly believe in freedom on the Internet then you should pay attention to this.

  3. Brad says:

    But the real concern should be how much the government is becoming involved with wanting to govern the internet. Attempts to categorize the internet as a “public utility” simply gives the government more control. The bottom line is that for the internet to remain free we need to make sure that the government has very little involvement with it.

  4. Tom Jacks says:

    Just another power grab by the worst president in history. This will lead to nothing more than worse service at a higher cost. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

    • Nancy N. says:

      It is broken – or was about to be, as major internet service providers had announced intentions to start providing priority service to major paying entities like Google. You were going to be getting worse service and be asked to pay a higher cost to maintain your existing level of service. This government action, which was widely demanded in the internet community, prevents that from happening.

  5. Lancer says:

    Please, oh please, tell me when anything proposed by government lovers actually reduces their scope? Their excuse is ALWAYS wrapped in the “we have to do something” package. Patriot Act, 0bamacare/ ACA, Stimulus Packages I and II…the list goes on and on.

  6. Sherry Epley says:

    We often make the mistake of seeing our rights and civil liberties as merely the absence of some kind of governmental action. We believe that we have free speech or freedom of religion when the government does nothing to impede those freedoms. But in reality, our rights depend heavily on active government – on positive government actions.

    In fact, the very existence of rights depends on government. In a very real way, rights and civil liberties are actually political constructs – creations of government. Formal rights do not exist until they are created by law or established in a constitution. We only have the right of free speech because it is guaranteed in our constitution. If we didn’t have our constitution, or if we didn’t have government, our civil liberties would literally not exist.

    * from governmentisgood.com

  7. A says:

    To clear up a few misconceptions:

    Net Neutrality does NOT mean that the government is going to start regulating content on the Internet. It means that the government is going to start regulating PROVIDERS more so that the providers themselves can’t regulate content by making certain sites more expensive to access or slower to load. You may not consider the current system “broken”, but the whole reason this debate is happening is because the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) themselves were trying to break it so that they could get away with charging people more for the ability to access websites that they don’t have agreements with–meaning that under this new plan, if FlaglerLive didn’t have some sort of contract (which could easily be manipulated so as to enable the company to delete content it didn’t like, which could easily turn into a mess with corporate political affiliations) with your ISP, you might have to pay more for an Internet plan allowing you to access independent sites like this one, or the ISP might make it so that the site loads so slowly that it’s unusable (yes, they can do that–ever had your data on your smartphone throttled because you went over your monthly limit?). This isn’t the government trying to impose an authoritarian rule on the Internet, it’s the government keeping ISPs from doing so.

  8. Brad says:

    I’m not an expert by any means, but I want to expand on my earlier comment.

    This is a really important topic, and can easily make one’s head hurt thinking on it too long. Because it’s not as simple as even this article puts the issue. Yes, one major problem at hand is the idea of keeping the pipelines of the internet open for all content to flow though freely and equally. It may even seem that the problem is simply because money-hungry internet providers who own the network infrastructure want to gouge customers who have become dependent on the internet. So, for many, the answer seems simple . . . create a law or, in this case, apply another law to the internet whether it really fits or not that says companies have to keep the information flow open equally for all content.

    See it’s simple . . . wrong. Title II of the Telecommunications Act was designed for providing telephone service equally. And it gave the government a hand in setting rates along with their hands on the infrastructure. The piece that is extremely important in the internet world is that the infrastructure is far from being built out to truly bring optimal speeds. When it comes to telephony, the infrastructure was simple and very limited. And, if you haven’t noticed, there has been no real infrastructure investment for it in many years. Why? Because the companies hands have been tied and have no real motivation to have ever improved it. The broadband internet delivers far more than what was ever delivered over phone lines, and the infrastructure needs to be built out more. And companies need to be allowed to reasonably and lawfully do just that.

    The debate has gotten so confused that in my opinion the Title II advocates are really just giving up. Government regulation is not the answer. Look at all of the additional fees the government likes to tack on now for our Utility Services. I don’t see this as something to celebrate as a solution at all. I see it really as a CNET article said recently, it’s a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

  9. Sherry Epley says:

    We often make the mistake of seeing our rights and civil liberties as merely the absence of some kind of governmental action. We believe that we have free speech or freedom of religion when the government does nothing to impede those freedoms. But in reality, our rights depend heavily on active government – on positive government actions.

    In fact, the very existence of rights depends on government. In a very real way, rights and civil liberties are actually political constructs – creations of government. Formal rights do not exist until they are created by law or established in a constitution. We only have the right of free speech because it is guaranteed in our constitution. If we didn’t have our constitution, or if we didn’t have government, our civil liberties would literally not exist.

    * from governmentisgood.com

  10. NortonSmitty says:

    Listen Bozos, the issue isn’t do we want the Government controlling the internet, It’s come down to there’s so much money to be stolen who do we want controlling it. The Republicans and Paid-For Dems are trying to give complete control of what’s available to us to the “No Service Providers” who give us access. It should be a fundamentally necessary part of life today, like clean water and electricity.
    Even though the FCC has sucked since even before Colin Powells greedy bastard son was in charge under Bush the Lesser, I gotta’ go with something we have a little say over rather than the Comcast/AT&T Cable Nazis. Even though it’s like a choice between cancer and a heart attack.

    • Lancer says:

      Wrong, NS.

      Maybe you’d like the inept, inefficient imperial federal government to “control” the internet, but everyone else wouldn’t be.

      1. Privacy…the government controlling the internet eliminates that idea. There would be greater intrusions, not less.

      2. There should be MORE competition among internet providers, this eliminates that. Currently, the federal government uses regulations to choose economic winners and losers…which isn’t its role. Only through competition would consumers see better service, pricing, etc.

  11. just me says:

    Hmm is it like” if you like your internet you can keep your internet”??? Unfortunately I don’t see Government caring about the free and open internet more likely a “fair and equal” internet one that would be neither.

  12. Sherry Epley says:

    This is a GOOD thing! It is NOT about government control!

    If the “big bad” federal FCC doesn’t stop the internet we all know today from being turned over to the Capitalistic “for profit” companies, the internet will no longer be balanced in a way that allows a small start up the same audience as the multi-billionaire corporations. Plus, their “profit” motive will create toll booths at every step of the way.

    Will the anti-government zealots please, please do their research!

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