As Network Neutrality activists picketed in front of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Georgetown residence this morning to show their concern for the future of the Internet, President Obama vindicated months of fervent pro-Internet activism by declaring his support for strong Net Neutrality under Title 2 of the Telecommunications Act.
But Network Neutrality is not yet the law of the land, and it may never be, especially if the FCC dawdles.
. . . the time has come for the FCC to recognize that broadband service is of the same importance and must carry the same obligations as so many of the other vital services do. To do that, I believe the FCC should reclassify consumer broadband service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — while at the same time forbearing from rate regulation and other provisions less relevant to broadband services. This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone — not just one or two companies.
The Internet has been one of the greatest gifts our economy — and our society — has ever known. The FCC was chartered to promote competition, innovation, and investment in our networks. In service of that mission, there is no higher calling than protecting an open, accessible, and free Internet. I thank the Commissioners for having served this cause with distinction and integrity, and I respectfully ask them to adopt the policies I have outlined here, to preserve this technology’s promise for today, and future generations to come.
The President’s full statement is here.
This is huge, perhaps the biggest victory since Internet activists rose up to stop SOPA and PIPA in 2012! Like that victory, today’s victory never would have happened without hundreds of committed activists motivating the concern of millions of Internet users. Today’s victory would not have happened without comments filed at the FCC by 4 million concerned citizens who were inspired by an amazingly cohesive and diligent coalition of organizations like Free Press, Public Knowledge, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight For the Future, Credo, Common Cause, the Open Technology Institute, Demand Progress, and others.
What these activists have been saying is, simply this: Title 2 is the simplest route to strong Net Neutrality. It embodies the fact that the Internet is now an essential service. Also, and very importantly, Title 2 is the most solid legal ground for Net Neutrality (based on common law from the 1300s) and the most likely to stand up to court challenges. So the President’s statement this morning gives us cause to celebrate.
But the battle is not over, and DEFINITELY not won yet.
As Obama has pointed out, the FCC is — and remains — an independent agency. Here is a little known fact: The FCC is a legislative body, NOT a part of the executive branch. It reports to Congress, not to the President. And guess who will be an all-Republican body — opposed to everything with Obama’s fingerprints on it — in January. So if the FCC waits until January, it could — and likely WILL — be facing unprecedented Congressional hostility.
Moreover, when Comcast calls — or AT&T, or Verizon or Time Warner — he takes their calls. (When Free Press or Public Knowledge or EFF calls, not so much — they have to camp out and picket and deliver millions of comments to get his attention.)
Also, Title 2 reclassification needs three FCC votes. So even if Tom Wheeler accedes to the President’s moral authority on this matter, OR if Tom Wheeler follows the pull of his personal bonds to Barack Obama, we still need Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn to vote for it. (The two GOP-nominated Commissioners, uh, fuggedaboudit.) Both Rosenworcel and Clyburn have indicated that they support stronger versions of Net Neutrality than Wheeler has heretofore proposed, but Comcast and the others have bribed FCC commissioners right into a good job in the recent past for voting “the right way.” So we must encourage Rosenworcel and Clyburn to stay strong on this. And act soon.
Act soon. This is the most important thing now. The FCC must act now. Now, in 2014. Title 2 Reclassification, now.