Protecting Internet Freedom, One Way Or Another

Protecting Internet Freedom, One Way Or Another

By now you’ve heard. A federal appeals has struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet (network neutrality) rules. By doing away with common-sense rules that prevent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from blocking or discriminating against online content, the court dealt a body blow to consumer choice and free speech online. The stakes are very high. As Internet scholar Marvin Ammori has noted,

“Because with the recent ruling, cable and phone companies like Verizon and AT&T now have the legal right to block any website, webpage, blog, video, web technology, app, cloud sync technology, or anything else running online through their pipes.”

This is not a theoretical issue. In just the two weeks since the court’s decision came down, there’s already evidence Verizon may be throttling Netflix. So the time for action is now.

Thankfully, the court left the FCC with a clear path forward: it can restore full net neutrality protections by “reclassifying” broadband under a regulatory regime that gives the commission greater authority. So last week Common Cause joined allies from Free Press, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, Avaaz, and more to deliver 1.1 million petition signatures to the FCC. The signers demanded that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler take decisive steps to protect consumers. So far the chairman has said he’ll be announcing “something” soon. Details to be determined.

This week, members of Congress showed some leadership of their own. Reps. Henry Waxman and Anna Eshoo in the House and Sens. Ed Markey, Al Franken, Richard Blumenthal, Tom Udall, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley introduced legislation to reinstate the FCC’s old net neutrality rules. We’ve said all along that the old rules were not perfect, but they gave wired broadband customers some basic protections.

“Everyone concerned about the future of our communications owes these Hill leaders a huge debt of gratitude,” said Michael Copps, former FCC commissioner and now special adviser to Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “Now it’s time for the FCC to seize this opportunity to guarantee an Open Internet–not by half measures and baby steps, but by exercising the authority Congress and the Circuit Court have provided them.”

It is fantastic to see congressional leaders standing up for innovation and free expression online. This is a critical first step to offer consumers some protections until the FCC finishes the job by reclassifying broadband as a telecommunications service.

Follow @ttoboyle for the latest on net neutrality and all of our Media and Democracy work.