Happy Birthday Net Neutrality! Where Do We Stand One Year Later?February 26, 2016
One year ago today, the Federal Communications Commission enacted the strongest net neutrality rules in history. It was a day of celebration in the Internet policy community, after a daunting year of fighting against big Internet Service Providers like Verizon and Comcast that took advantage of a court’s decision to rule against the net neutrality rules we had at that time.
The fight was just the latest round in the battle to protect the Open Internet, after the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an earlier attempt to enact net neutrality rules, on the grounds that the FCC’s first go at net neutrality relied on the wrong part of the law (Title I) for authority. But in its decision, the Court laid out the groundwork for the FCC to go back and try again – this time using the part of the rule that would apply common carrier rules to ISPs (a.k.a. the “reclassification of broadband Internet under Title II as a telecommunications service” we’ve heard so much about).
But Big Telecom saw this as a chance to get rid of rules that would hold them back from the ability to pick and choose what Internet content reached their customers, and create a “pay-for-play” environment online that would benefit ISPs at the expense of the public, and make it impossible for new, innovative, and diverse services to compete online.
But policy advocates and grassroots organizers saw the gauntlet thrown, rallied, and fought back, spreading the word to the public. As a result, nearly 4 million Americans submitted comments to the FCC in support of Title II reclassification–more public comments than the Commission had ever received on an issue. President Obama also spoke out in support of Title II reclassification, a video clip of a passionate John Oliver speech on the topic went viral, popular Web companies like Google, Netflix, and Wikipedia took a stand….and by February 2015, after unprecedented public support, the decision for Title II reclassification was inevitable, and the FCC officially adopted an Open Internet Order that rests on a rock-solid legal foundation.
So here we are, a year later, and despite the clamoring of the ISPs that Title II would be the end of times, the Internet ecosystem is stronger than ever. The “virtuous cycle” has continued to spin. Instead of the “chilling effect” Big Telecom warned us about, Internet providers around the country have increasingly invested in more network build-out and ratcheted up speeds in many markets. Content creators are able to reach consumers over more apps and platforms than ever. Though much work remains to be done to maintain an optimal environment for increased access and diverse voices, thanks to the FCC’s Open Internet Order, the future looks very bright indeed.
Of course, members of Congress who have been influenced by ISP lobbyists are still attempting tactics to destroy net neutrality, big ISPs have a lawsuit against the FCC tied up in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals–yet again, and big ISPs are also trying to undermine competition with schemes like “Stream TV.” The opponents of the Open Internet have not given up, so neither can we. We need to continue to protect what we fought so hard to win.
As we await the court’s decision, we encourage you to contact your representative in Congress and tell them to take a stand against legislative interference and let the FCC do its job. We also encourage you to celebrate the one-year anniversary of a truly historic day that demonstrated the power of democracy. As PK’s Harold Feld wrote last year in regards to the significance of the decision:
Reclassification was a thing that should not be possible, and which therefore nobody but a handful of us believed could happen. […]It happened because hundreds of lawyers, grassroots organizers, and policy advocates persuaded over 4 million people to stand up for their rights and demand that the government act to protect them from the unrestrained corporate power of broadband access providers. It shows — to everyone’s surprise — that government of the people, by the people, and for the people has not perished from this Earth. Democracy working.
To learn more about where net neutrality stands now, check out a full history of “How We Got Here” by Harold Feld, and a breakdown of both the arguments currently before the DC Court of Appeals and unreasonable Congressional interference, by Kate Forscey.