Today, December 21, President Obama's Federal Communications Commission betrayed the fundamental principle of net neutrality and sold us out to AT&T, Verizon and Comcast.
This is the culmination of a long struggle, and it's important we discuss frankly what led to this point. So this will be a longer e-mail than we traditionally send, with some recommended action items at the end.
Despite what you may have read in the headlines, the rules passed by the FCC today amount to nothing more than a cynical ploy by Democrats to claim a victory on net neutrality while actually caving on real protections for consumers.
Make no mistake, AT&T lobbyists pre-approved this proposal, which means consumers lost and Big Telecom won.
Net neutrality is a principle that says that Internet users, not Internet service providers (ISPs), should be in control. It ensures that Internet service providers can't speed up, slow down, or block Web content based on its source, ownership, or destination.
Yet today the FCC, let by Obama-appointee Julius Genachowski and cheered on by the White House, voted to adopt rules that will enshrine in federal regulations for the first time the ability of AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other ISPs to discriminate between sources and types of content. And despite the fact that there is only one Internet, the rules also largely exempt cell phones and wireless devices from what meager protections the rules afford.
It's no exaggeration to say that this decision marks the beginning of the end for the Internet as we know it.
Senator Al Franken laid out what's at stake with this ruling, saying:
"The FCC's action today is simply inadequate to protect consumers or preserve the free and open Internet. I am particularly disappointed to learn that the order will not specifically ban paid prioritization, allowing big companies to pay for a fast lane on the Internet and abandoning the foundation of net neutrality. The rule also contains almost no protections for mobile broadband service, remaining silent on the blocking of content, applications, and devices. Wireless technology is the future of the Internet, and for many rural Minnesotans, it's often the only choice for broadband."
So how did we get here? Just two years ago, net neutrality advocates were heartened by the election of a president who promised to defend net neutrality and appoint an FCC Chair who would do the same.
Initially, things looked good. After President Obama was inaugurated and after he appointed Chairman Genachowski to head the FCC, we had what we thought were three net neutrality supporters on the five-member commission and the support of the president. It seemed reasonable, therefore, to support the FCC in writing the net neutrality regulations that we needed.
But it was the FCC's unwillingness to undo a Bush-era decision to deregulate broadband Internet providers that demonstrated how weak the Obama administration's support for net neutrality really was.
This Bush-era decision classified broadband Internet providers outside of the legal framework that traditionally applied to companies that offer two-way communication services
After a federal court ruled that unless the FCC reversed the Bush-era decision to deregulate broadband the FCC couldn't enforce net neutrality rules, Genachowski tested the waters with a proposal to reregulate (or in the jargon of the FCC "reclassify") broadband. Genachowski himself said that, according to the FCC General Counsel, pushing ahead with policies without reregulating broadband would be unwise given the tenuous legal footing the FCC would find itself in. In fact, Genachowski said:
"...continuing to pursue policies with respect to broadband Internet access [without reclassifying broadband] has a serious risk of failure in court. It would involve a protracted, piecemeal approach to defending essential policy initiatives designed to protect consumers, promote competition, extend broadband to all Americans, pursue necessary public safety measures, and preserve the free and open Internet. The concern is that this path would lead the Commission straight back to its current uncertain situation-and years will have passed without actually implementing the key policies needed to improve broadband in America and enhance economic growth and broad opportunity for all Americans."
But the Chairman changed his tune after he unsurprisingly came under pressure from the telecom giants.