After more than a decade of controversy and debate, the stage is set for Thursday morning’s vote on new FCC Net neutrality rules. If all goes as hoped for and expected, the commission will reclassify broadband as a “common carrier,” a public utility like telephones, power and water — a major step toward insuring an open, free and fair Internet for everyone.
At a Tuesday morning telephone press conference, Craig Aaron, president of the media reform group Free Press, said that “maybe for the first time” he will be able to “stand up and applaud what the FCC is doing. That’s no small thing. The FCC’s vote on Thursday may be the most important victory for the public interest in the agency’s history.”
During the media briefing, Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts called the anticipated vote “the next chapter in the history of innovation in America,” and former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, who now heads the Media and Democracy Reform Initiative at Common Cause, said that the campaign in support of Net neutrality is proof that “grass roots reform can still beat big money… [it’s] a vindication of the great promise of democracy and the great promise of America.”
The battle isn’t over. Whichever way the commission votes, there will be litigation. Congressional action has been expected as well, but on Tuesday evening, The New York Times reported that, “Senator John Thune, Republican of South Dakota and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, all but surrendered on efforts to overturn the coming ruling, conceding Democrats are lining up with President Obama in favor of the F.C.C.” Meanwhile, Republican Congressman Greg Walden’s House Energy and Commerce subcommittee is holding hearings today titled, “The Uncertain Future of the Internet.”
Such Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as Time Warner, Comcast and Verizon are unhappy with the proposed rules, and for now (to use The New York Times’ word), “dazed” by the seeming success of the Net neutrality grass roots campaign. But some commentators, including Dr. Bill Baker, former TV executive and director of Fordham University’s Bernard L. Schwartz Center for Media, Public Policy, & Education, point out, as Baker did in a recent op-ed piece in Variety, “The FCC’s new rules are anything but a meddlesome set of restrictions. They are a relatively gentle reminder to the ISPs of how our communications technologies can help us prosper while inspiring our whole civilization to become greater…”
“The Internet has unquestionably become the river upon which a vital and ever increasing amount of information, personal communications, educational resources, entertainment, products, and services flow to the rest of our economy. Regulating ISPs as common carriers is a no-brainer. It’s the right choice for business, education, and democracy.”
In anticipation of Thursday’s meeting, which will be livestreamed at the FCC’s website, beginning at 9:30 am, ET, here’s an excellent primer on Net neutrality from the Knight Foundation. And although the complete text of the new FCC rules is not yet available to the public, you can read this detailed fact sheet from the office of Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler.