The FCC’s Plan to Protect the Internet -By Patrick Leahy and Richard Blumenthal FEB. 24 2015 3:53 A`

Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler. Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.`
Federal Communication Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images.

Most Americans believe that when they sign up for Internet access with a broadband provider, they are paying to access the lawful content and services of their choice. But without crucial protections, the relationship can quickly be reversed—instead of selling their customers access to the Internet, broadband providers can effectively sell privileged, fast access to their customers to the highest bidders. By limiting their subscribers’ access to only the websites that can afford to pay, or by blocking or throttling lawful content, broadband providers have the potential to thwart the Internet’s role as an engine of economic growth, democracy, and free speech.

Internet users have now gone more than a year without crucial protections in place that guarantee their right to access the lawful content and services of their choice. The Federal Communications Commission is on the brink of putting those protections back in place. Earlier this month, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler unveiled his proposal to restore certainty to the Internet by adopting net neutrality rules that will apply to all domestic broadband providers. If approved by the commissioners on Feb. 26, there will once again be meaningful rules that protect consumers and provide certainty to small businesses and entrepreneurs.

The proposal under consideration would prohibit blocking and throttling of lawful content and ban paid prioritization agreements where broadband providers sell fast access to their customers to the highest bidders. As outlined, Chairman Wheeler’s plan represents meaningful action to ensure that the Internet remains a dynamic engine of economic growth, democracy, and free speech for years to come.

There is now widespread and bipartisan agreement that open Internet principles should apply to broadband providers. The FCC received nearly 4 million comments on the issue from Americans, and they spoke almost unanimously: Consumers and small businesses want and expect an Internet where the best websites and services thrive on their merits, not based on financial relationships with broadband providers. These comments, along with copies of more detailed filings and disclosures of meetings with FCC commissioners and staff, are available online for all to see. The record Chairman Wheeler is basing his proposal upon is open, transparent, and overwhelmingly in favor of his approach.

The impact of the public comments, most of which were filed using the Internet, highlights the transformative role that online access to policymakers can have on our democracy. Preserving the Internet’s growing role as a conduit for citizen participation is exactly what Chairman Wheeler’s proposal is designed to do. Some critics have claimed that U.S. legal rules protecting an open Internet could be used by extreme foreign governments to justify their own censorship of online speech or oppressive censorship policies. This claim is plainly far-fetched. The rules being contemplated by the FCC make it clear that no entity, whether it is the government or a big broadband company, should be able to dictate the terms of free speech online. The fear of foreign entities twisting the meaning of our laws and goals to serve their purposes should not prevent United States policymakers from taking responsible steps to protect American consumers.

Republicans in Congress have now joined us in recognizing the need for net neutrality protections to keep the Internet open and equally accessible for all. Despite their stated support for the same principles included in Chairman Wheeler’s proposal, however, they have been loudly critical of FCC action, claiming that only Congress can provide the necessary protections. We feel strongly that the legislation recently put forward by congressional Republicans would not adequately protect consumers and small businesses online—nor would it provide the FCC the tools it needs to ensure that broadband service remains accessible to everyone.

By stripping the FCC’s ability to issue clear guidance, the Republican proposal would also create an avalanche of litigation each time the FCC acted to protect an open Internet. A core function of an expert agency like the FCC is to help all involved parties, from the regulated companies to the protected consumers, understand what behavior is and isn’t permissible. The Republican bill ties the FCC’s hands by limiting its role solely to enforcement, allowing it only to evaluate behavior on a case-by-case basis. Each of those enforcement proceedings will inevitably lead to litigation in federal court, with a broadband provider asserting that the FCC has overstepped its bounds. There is no need to alter the FCC’s traditional authority to issue the kind of clear forward-looking rules of the road that both consumers and providers can understand. Further, the bill as currently drafted creates a category of exempted “specialized services” that could operate outside of the bill’s protections. The end result is a massive loophole that could be used to undermine open Internet principles. This is not the certainty that consumers, small businesses, and broadband providers need and deserve.

In the midst of overheated rhetoric about government takeovers and overregulation of the Internet, it is important to remember that reinstating popular and bipartisan principles to preserve an open Internet is the goal of the FCC’s proceeding. Congress should let the FCC do its work to fulfill this important mandate and put in place protections that both Republicans and Democrats agree must exist.

This is a key moment in the history and the future of the open Internet. Targeted FCC action will protect and promote the Internet as we know it today, a dynamic platform that has led to stunning innovation and economic opportunity for millions of Americans. We must not lose sight of that goal or take it for granted: The driving force of the 21st-century economy must remain open and accessible to all. We have no doubt that that is a bipartisan goal, and we urge all sides to keep that in mind when the FCC acts on Feb. 26.

This article is part of Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State UniversityNew America, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

Public piles on net neutrality debate – By TONY ROMM | 6/4/14 11:11 PM EDT

A blistering battle over net neutrality has the Federal Communications Commission hearing an earful — and from more than just the usual torrent of lobbyists and lawyers who swarm the chairman’s eighth-floor office.

Pro-net neutrality advocates are shown. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

The FCC’s online system for public comments ground to a halt Monday. | John Shinkle/POLITICO

Even beyond the Beltway, critics have pilloried the country’s top telecommunications regulator as it weighs new rules to ensure that all Web traffic is treated equally. The debate over net neutrality has always been controversial and complicated — for consumers, companies and courts alike. But Chairman Tom Wheeler’s new blueprint has triggered a reaction far more intense than what might typically greet the early stages of an FCC proceeding.

Many commenters — and members of Congress — bemoan publicly that they have more questions than answers. They fear Wheeler’s approach might create a Web in which companies or consumers have to pay for faster access to the movies and other content they desire, though the chairman has assured otherwise. Adding to the trouble, intense lobbying from all sides of the fight only has imbued the issue with a new alarmism.

As a result, the FCC’s online system for public comments ground to a halt Monday, thanks in part to comedian John Oliver, who urged viewers of his HBO show to contact the agency. It marked only the latest, most high-profile indication yet that net neutrality had touched an unprecedented national nerve.

“It’s an extraordinary demonstration of how much people care about the Internet, and how it has functioned for them, and they don’t want that changed,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), an ardent net neutrality supporter, said in an interview. “They’re fearful about it.”

The FCC for years has struggled to incorporate some form of net neutrality rules. Inheriting the agency as it suffered its latest court defeat, Wheeler earlier in May produced an open Internet order that tracks closely with federal judges’ recommendations. But many net neutrality advocates — from Free Press to Google and Mozilla to a torrent of venture capitalists — quickly charged that Wheeler’s plan would create online “fast lanes.”
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Public to FCC: Don’t Give Up On Open Internet – – Sarah Lazare, staff writer – Thursday, January 30, 2014

A concerned public is demanding that the Federal Communications Commission refuse to bow down to a judicial blow to internet freedom dealt earlier this month.


(Photo: Reuters/Sherwin Crasto)

One million petitions backed by a coalition of over 80 organizations — includingFree PressPrometheus Radio Project, and the American Civil Liberties Union — call for the FCC to “protect the open internet” and “reassert its clear authority over our nation’s communications infrastructure.”

Petitioners say this can be accomplished by reclassifying broadband services as “telecommunications services” — a move that would subject them to regulations that protect net neutrality.

A federal appeals court struck down the FCC’s Open Internet Order earlier this month, siding with a challenge from telecom giant Verizon. Loss of net neutrality protections, which require that Internet Service Providers treat all online content the same, would allow corporations like AT&T, Verizon, and Time Warner Cable to block and censor internet content and tamper with traffic — giving the advantage to the highest bidders.

Critics charge this would make the internet an even more uneven playing field.

“The court’s decision to kill open Internet rules will have a detrimental impact on communities of color and other marginalized groups,” reads a statement by Media Action Grassroots Network. “It will force small organizations and businesses to compete with the biggest websites, will set a price point that many can’t afford, and expand an almost uncrossable digital divide.”

For many, that divide already exists.

“In Philadelphia, at least a third of our residents don’t have access to broadband in their homes,” said Hannah Sassaman, policy director for Media Mobilizing Project, in an interview with Common Dreams. “This lack of access already limits their abilities to tell stories for change, and to hear the voices of other community members struggling with the same issues.”

“If we lose the principle of net neutrality, poor and working people may find that their access to information and to each others’ voices is even more curtailed,” Sassaman added. “Chairman Wheeler has the power to act now to protect and expand an open internet for millions of poor and working people in America.”

“The FCC has the power to defend our right to communicate online, and to protect the public from predatory business practices from giant ISPs determined to invent new ways to charge us even more for even less,” said Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson. “Chairman Wheeler must take action now to reverse a decade of failed policies built on industry giveaways, and reclassify broadband so corporate gatekeepers like Verizon and Comcast don’t get to determine whose voices are heard and whose are silenced.”


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Will our voices be silenced on the Internet? – by Joseph Torres January 25, 2014

Net neutrality ruling a major blow to communities of color


John Giustina/Getty Images

The open Internet has provided people of color and other marginalized groups an unprecedented opportunity to tell their own stories and to organize for racial and social justice. The principle of the open Internet, sometimes referred to as “Net neutrality,” prevents Internet service providers (ISPs) from interfering with, blocking or discriminating against Web content.

Several advocacy groups have used the open Internet to organize online campaigns to protest against racism, hate speech and unfair treatment of immigrants. For example, Color of Change, an online advocacy organization, uses the open Internet as a tool to empower the black community to speak out against injustice and to make government more responsive to its concerns. The immigrant-rights group Presente has organized online campaigns to challenge inhumane immigration policies. Colorlines, a daily news website that focuses on racial justice, relies on the open Internet as a platform to report on critical stories often ignored by the mainstream media.

But this may all come to an end.

On Jan. 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled that ISPs such as Verizon and AT&T can censor, block and interfere with Web traffic and content online. The court struck down the Federal Communication Commission’s 2010 Open Internet order, which was intended to provide Internet users with some protection to access the content of their choice online without interference.

Verizon sued the FCC in 2011 following the passage of those rules. The telecom giant argued that, like newspapers, ISPs should have the First Amendment right to “edit” the Internet and determine what content flows over their wires.

With Verizon’s triumph, there’s nothing stopping ISPs from becoming our Internet overlords. And if you believe what Verizon told the court, that day is coming.

Asked by federal judges whether Verizon planned to prioritize some websites and online services over others, the company’s lawyer said last year that her client would be “exploring those types of arrangements” if it weren’t for the FCC rules.

There’s nothing holding back Verizon and other ISPs now. They have the power to determine whose voices will be heard online and which ones will be silenced. They also have the power to block unpopular speech. And this may mean the silencing the voices of those fighting for social and racial justice — especially the voices of people of color.

The end of net neutrality would be a tremendous loss for marginalized voices and the democratic debate they enrich.

“Black folks’ ability to be heard is now in real danger,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color of Change, in a statement last week. “Our communities rely on the Internet to speak without a corporate filter, to access information and connect to the world.”

Jessica Gonzalez, executive vice president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, added that the ruling curtails the ability of members of her community to fight “discrimination, tell (their) own stories fairly and accurately, organize and even earn a living.”

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