This morning, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler published an op-ed in Wired announcing the FCC’s proposed open Internet rules under a strong But flexible framework.
This announcement is a huge victory for net neutrality advocates, including musicians and independent labels who rely on the access to audiences provided by the internet as a fundamental tool for commerce and free speech. And it’s also a victory for music fans, who want equal access to the full diversity of musical expression, not just those backed by corporations who can afford to strike big money fast-lane deals with broadband providers.
Wheeler’s post, worth reading in full, explains his decision to reclassify Internet service under Title II of the Communications Act, abandoning weaker alternative approaches that FMC has warned against:
The internet must be fast, fair and open. That is the message I’ve heard from consumers and innovators across this nation. That is the principle that has enabled the internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression. And that is the lesson I learned heading a tech startup at the dawn of the internet age. The proposal I present to the commission will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future, for all Americans.
How it happened
So how did we get to this point, on the edge of one of the most significant policy victories in our organization’s history, when less than a year ago, many thought only weaker provisions would be possible? The answer is clear: You did this: this exciting news is a culmination of a decade of work by grassroots activists, from artists who were talking about this issue from the stage long before it was front page news. From arts and culture organizations who spread the word about the potential impacts to their communities, to music fans who made their voices heard among the 4 million+ comments to the FCC this year, this is a direct result of your engagement. The leadership of the music community has been crucial—as part of a broad coalition of groups from across the political spectrum—in achieving what pundits once called unthinkable.
What’s in the rules
Wheeler writes: “These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband.” That means that cable companies and wireless providers alike will have to treat your music, video, or website the same as any other kind of data. As our friends at media reform organization Free Press explain, the choice to use Title II is a very big deal:
With Title II we have the legal authority we need to win the battles that are coming around the bend. Congress will look for ways to tear this victory down. ISPs will search for ways to skirt the law — and they’ll sue to overturn it. But we’ll stand on the strongest legal footing possible to win in Congress and in the courts.
If the FCC votes to reclassify under Title II, it will be one of the greatest public policy victories in decades — because it’s not a defensive move. Title II is the law the FCC should have applied all along, and reclassification is a proactive push to protect the rights of Internet users at a time when companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are trying to control the market and strengthen their monopoly status.
As expected, the rules will also include “forbearance” provisions, meaning the FCC will refrain from enforcing some sections of Title II, in order to encourage more investment in expanding broadband networks. And an official FCC Factsheet indicates some additional encouraging changes, including enhanced transparency protections, and clear principles that future-proof the regulations, to be prepared for future technological developments.
Of course, the devil is in the details, and we’re looking forward to scrutinizing the actual language put forward for voting. There may still be room for improvement, and it’s likely that big cable’s army of lobbyists will mount a renewed push to squeeze in whatever loopholes they can, potentially undermining core net neutrality protections. That’s why we’re staying vigilant until we’re across the finish line.
What happens next?
On February 26, the five FCC commissioners will vote on Wheeler’s proposed rules. In the countdown to that vote, it’s likely that the coming weeks will see attacks on FCC and Wheeler himself. During this time, it’s going to be important for activists to make it clear that as long as he continues to stand up for musicians, we’ve got Wheeler’s back.
In particular, it’s going to be especially important to encourage Congress to stay out of the way and allow the FCC to do its job in protecting consumers. As we’ve recently reported, recent congressional hearings examined been debating a bogus bill that purports to protect net neutrality, but actually undermines open internet protections by stripping the FCC of its authority, as well as its ability to protect consumer privacy.
Many of our allies on this issue have put together ways to take action before the FCC vote in just three weeks.
Battle For The Net has a congressional scoreboard that lays out where members of Congress stand on the issue and a countdown widget you can place on your site in preparation for the big vote.
Tumblr’s put together a simple tool that allows you to place calls to Congress.
Free Press also has an easy way to connect to your legislator about the misguided bill currently in Congress.
OpenMedia has created a letter to the editor tool to help you get the word out about how strong Net Neutrality protections can impact you.
Finally, we encourage you to send Tom Wheeler a note of support and thanks for choosing the right path for real net neutrality. You can tweet at him at @TomWheelerFCC.