Thanks to those Naked Capitalism readers who supported, through your petition signatures, e-mails, calls, and donations, the push to preserve net neutrality and keep the major telecom and cable incumbents from giving preferential access to content providers with the financial heft to pay for it. Over time, that practice would be certain to drive smaller sites like ours into a death spiral of lower attractiveness, lower visibility, and lower traffic.
The Wall Street Journal summarizes the nuts and bolts of the FCC’s ruling:
The Federal Communications Commission set aside two decades of laissez-faire policy Thursday to assert broad authority over the Internet, voting to regulate broadband providers as public utilities and overruling laws in two states that made it harder for cities to offer their own Web service.
Both rulings were setbacks for big telecommunications and cable companies that have invested billions of dollars in their networks and wins for Internet companies that have enjoyed explosive growth as people spend more time online. The moves reflect an evolution from regulators treating the Internet as a technological innovation that needed to be nurtured to a powerful commercial venue with rival constituencies that need to be balanced.
The commission pledged to use a light touch, and the immediate practical effects of the decisions are limited because companies, regulators and users all agree in principle that traffic shouldn’t be blocked….
The FCC has tried for the better part of a decade to find a middle path of using guidelines or rules to enforce net neutrality without going so far as treating broadband as a regulated service under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934.
A court decision left the use of Title II as the only means for the FCC for preserving net neutrality. FCC chairman and former cable lobbyist Thomas Wheeler was clearly reluctant to go that route, but the tremendous, grass roots organizing to keep the Internet open forced his hand.
Keep in mind that even though left-leaning groups did the bulk of the campaigning, the tech community, which includes many libertarians, also weighed in supporting the use of Title II to curb pipeline owners’ potential to abuse their oligopoly position.
From Steven Rosenfeld at Alternet:
The joint efforts of many progressive groups—such the ACLU, CREDO Action, Common Cause, Free Press, MoveOn, the National Organization for Women, Center for Media Justice, and many others—and Internet companies such as Netflix, Twitter and Mozilla, created a persuasive coalition of customers and users. While Internet providers offer an array of plans with different speeds and components, the fastest service providers were increasingly gaining monopoly control, a New York Times analysis said Thursday.
“For genuine high-speed Internet service most American households now have only one choice, and most often it is a cable company,” the Times said. “The new rules will not ensure competition from new entrants, ranging from next-generation wireless technology to ultrahigh-speed networks built by municipalities. Instead, strong regulation is intended to prevent the dominant broadband suppliers from abusing their market power.”
As David Segal of DemandProgress wrote,
The FCC just passed Title II Net Neutrality rules thanks to your work and that of a broad coalition of activists. It’s a challenge to describe just how unlikely this victory appeared as recently as a few months ago.
As we told the Huffington Post: Popular victories like today’s are so unusual that three Congressional committees are investigating how this happened. If the Net Neutrality effort had followed the usual playbook, if Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T had defeated the American people, nobody would be wondering why!
And from Lee Fang at The Intercept makes clear that despite the efforts of Obots and the Democratic party to claim this victory as their win, the Administration was not supporting this campaign. The Venezuelans have a saying for what happened: “Getting in front of a mob and calling it a parade.”
For Internet start-ups and political activists alike, the efforts by the ISP industry to move away from net neutrality represented a transformation of the Internet, from a place in which all voices were equal to a world of big incumbent websites and corporate media-dominated information sources. “The question came down to, who ultimately controls this Internet? Is it going to be these powerful corporations?” says [Tim] Karr [of Free Press]…
Now, with the FCC voting to reclassify Internet access providers under Title II of the Communications Act, net neutrality rules are stronger than ever. The credit for such a seachange, say activists who agitated for the decision, belongs to a mix of online and traditional activism.
Pro-net neutrality protesters quickly made headlines by storming hearings, confronting Wheeler at public events, and carrying out a string of stunts designed to raise public awareness.
Malkia Cyril, the executive director of the Center for Media Justice, stresses that the strength of the net neutrality movement relied on the diversity of its coalition. She says Color of Change, National Hispanic Media Coalition, immigrant rights’ groups, activists from Black Lives Matter and communities of color “took it to the streets, to the doorstep of the ISPs.”
“What happened? The people happened, organizing happened,” Cyril says.
Karr, who has worked on net neutrality advocacy for over a decade, also emphasized the role of a large coalition, “from librarians to free speech advocates,” with a shared interest in Internet freedom. “It also took a host of different tactics,” he says. “Protests in Philadelphia, protests in San Francisco, people making videos on YouTube — not coordinating in some centralized fashion, but many groups using their own creative strength and reaching out to their own constituents around this goal of convincing the FCC to reclassify Internet access providers under Title II.”…
Following Obama’s first election win in 2008, the president retired his grassroots “Organizing for America” army of volunteers into a wing of the Democratic National Committee, and reportedly pressured activist groups not to publicly criticize his administration.
So that old 1960s slogan, “power to the people” might not be dead.
The ruling will be challenged in court, but the Title II designation has the firm legal foundations and thus has good odds of surviving.
Again, I want to thank all of you who chipped in on this effort, even in a small way. This success shows that large-scale organizing can and does make a difference.