A miracle happened last week. After big broadband providers flooded the media threatening huge problems caused by net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission voted to reclassify broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. Their action will keep broadband providers from blocking or slowing traffic on the Internet. The fight isn’t over because the same providers will pour millions into lobbying Congress for laws to eliminate equal access to the Internet. At this time, they may not be successful, considering the dysfunctional nature of a Congress that almost sent the DHS into shutdown. The Fox network made its usual outrageously false comments. Read at your own risk.
What big business broadband providers wanted was the right to collect payment from Web businesses for delivering content with higher speed and quality. Open Internet advocates said that the providers shouldn’t be able to manipulate traffic in a way that smacks of blackmail. New rules reclassify broadband Internet services from an “information service” to a “telecommunications service.” The change holds companies such as Comcast and AT&T to the higher and necessary standard of operating in the public interest.
As a fact sheet from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler states, “For the first time the Commission would have authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary” if it finds that interconnection deals between internet service providers and content providers fail to meet Title II’s “just and reasonable” standard. Under the new FCC definition of high-speed broadband, 82 percent of consumers in the nation have one or fewer options of high speed internet providers. No competition meets no free market advantage for the consumer who is charged unreasonable rates, receives bad service, or suffers from “fast lane” deals that make some parts of the internet more accessible than others. Free online speech is another advantage of the FCC ruling: everyone’s voice can be heard regardless of economic status.
The potential of the FCC change is amazing. State regulations can no longer limit local internet services; for example, cities that petition the FCC can provide high speed internet to their residents. As such, the FCC overturned laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevent local governments from expanding services in Chattanooga and Wilson (NC). Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Sen. Thom Tillis (R-NC) have already filed legislation to overturn the FCC’s municipal broadband ruling.
The rules ban Internet providers from blocking or slowing down services such as Netflix and from speeding up traffic even in exchange for money. Wireless carriers such as Verizon Wireless, Sprint and T-Mobile, which provide Internet service to tens of millions of smartphones and tablets are included in the regulation. Sprint, one of the four major wireless providers, “commends the FCC for its hard work in arriving at a thoughtful, measured approach on this important issue.” Sonic.net CEO Dane Jasper wrote, “It is important to draw the distinction between regulation of the Internet, and regulation of carriers. The FCC’s order will disallow carriers from discriminating against sources of traffic that their customers choose to access via the Internet. This is common carriage at its core, and as a carrier, I am supportive of being regulated as a common carrier by the FCC.”
On the other hand, Verizon is so furious about the FCC decision that the company issued its protest in Morse code, guaranteeing that almost no one could read its statement without going to a PDF of its arguments against net neutrality.
Verizon is partly to blame for the FCC ruling because it sued to overturn much weaker rules passed in 2010, leading to today’s ruling. Other providers are blaming Verizon for its action.
The FCC made no changes to consumer services or any additional fees. That is the reason for the FCC ruling–to keep the Internet functioning as it is now. The FCC was very cautious in its ruling—no regulation of “unbundling, tariffs, or other forms of rate regulation.” That means people in the United States will continue to pay far more than most other countries for their Internet access.
Net neutrality doesn’t stop big business from making big money. If the FCC approves Comcast’s merger with Time Warner Cable, Comcast will control over half the U.S. cable and Internet market with 63 percent of U.S. consumers having only one choice of broadband provider. Generating $68 billion in 2014, Comcast owns NBC and Universal pictures, has consolidated internet, cable television and phone services, and made huge profits from investing in fiber optic cables and buy smaller providers. In that way, the company has successfully increased consumer monthly charges, including jacked-up prices for faster speeds, as shown in “Time Warner Cable’s 97 Percent Profit Margin on High-Speed Internet Service Exposed.”
Because FCC has not issue exact language about the change, specifics won’t be made public for weeks. That’s when providers will begin taking legal action against the FCC rules and lobby sympathetic conservative legislators for votes to supersede the regulations. House and Senate Republicans have already invited providers for a meeting in their plan to remove broadband from classification as a utility service.
Marvin Ammori wrote about the victory of the people in the FCC decision:
“The vote is already touted as among the biggest public interest victories in history and arguably the biggest Internet freedom victory ever. ‘Ever’ means: this victory is even bigger than the victory over the Stop Online Piracy Act in 2012, a copyright bill that could have censored our favorite websites but went down in flames when Wikipedia, reddit, Google and others joined in an Internet-wide blackout for one day.”
“Popular victories like today’s are so unusual that three Congressional committees are investigating how this happened,” said David Segal, executive director of Demand Progress, a group that supports net neutrality. This miracle came from a grassroots effort in opposition to big money from big business. People camped out in front of the FCC and picketed FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s home. Almost 4 million people left comments on the FCC website, at one point crashing it. In return, providers donated heavily to civil rights organizations to bring them in line with big business. With Comcast and Verizon trustees on its board and $2 million in donations during 2012 and 2013, the Urban League widely publicized Comcast’s arguments against net neutrality. The response was a coalition of almost 100 other civil rights organizations such as Color of Change and Hispanic Media Coalition calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband.
As Craig Aaron wrote, “This is what democracy looks like.”