A Tale of Two Net Neutrality Freakouts

Posted by Mitchell - May 29, 2014 (entry 709)

On April 23, the (Rupert-Murdoch owned) Wall-Street Journal leaked news that the Federal Communication Commission would offer "paid prioritization" in its planned forthcoming net neutrality provisions. The first two attempts to enforce net neutrality failed to pass court muster. Indeed, the most recent attempt was largely crafted by corporate lobbyists for the tech industry and internet service providers, and which stood on shaky legal ground that doomed it to defeat.

Within a day of the announcement, the panic spread far and wide across America accompanied by a panoply of spontaneous actions in opposition -- blog posts, activist actions, videos, petitions, even a round-the-clock encampment outside the FCC itself in the days leading up to the vote. The groundswell reached historic proportions: estimates were that the number of people who commented on the docket at some way reached an estimated 3.4 million people, which would break the record of three million respondents set by the Media Ownership Uprising of 2003. The flood of commentary in opposition reach the point that FCC chair and former cable and telecom lobbyist Tom Wheeler was forced to respond.

His words, in blog posts, in public statements, and in the Notice for Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) that the FCC passed on May 15, 2014, made Wheeler sound like he was the biggest internet activist in America and that those who raised a hue and cry were flat out wrong.

Words are one thing, but the policies at play point to an opposite approach, regardless their stated intent. The FCC, ever the environmentally-conscious citizen, recycled practically the same lukewarm policies crafted by corporate lobbyists for the tech and internet service industries (which lost in court). One hinted-at approach -- the so-called Section 706 -- would force the FCC to abandon net neutrality if it were applied. But in the final NPRM, there was one critical -- and encouraging -- difference: the FCC brought to the table the reconsideration of Title II Classification of the internet, which would restore the legal foundation that would help the FCC succeed in defending its net neutrality policies.

When word leaked that the NPRM put Title II back on the table, we saw another freakout -- this one by the internet service providers who were counting on a toothless net neutrality not getting in the way. If the opposition is freaking out about this possibility, then the FCC must be doing something right. And the fact that Title II is up for consideration is a credit to the historic torrent of support in support of geniune net neutrality -- one all the more remarkable given the paucity of corporate TV coverage the issue has gotten (but what else is new?).

The expected schedule is roughly as follows: The NPRM is up for comment until July 15, 2014. Follow-up to the first round of comments will be accepted for another two months, until September 15, 2014. The FCC is expected to vote on the final rule before the end of 2014. We strongly encourage you to comment (you can do so here) and demand the FCC restore the internet's classification as a Title II telecommunications service. In addition to the links here, if you need more information, here are some additional resources:

  • The Benton foundation's summary of #NetNeutrality
  • Net neutrality: How did we get here and where do we go now?
  • Net Neutrality: Your Cheat Sheet To The FCC's Proposal
  • The FCC’s Net Neutrality Proposal Explained
  • The FCC Changed Course on Network Neutrality. Here is why you should care.

    The Chicago Media Action website also has a great many resources to the history of the net neutrality wars, including the fight in 2006 (which we helped galvanize). And in a new development, here's an MP3 file of a recent 44-minute interview about net neutrality which aired on Chicago radio station WZRD on May 18, 2014.

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