Today 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.
From what we can gather, one of the decisive moments came when 74 Democrats signed a letter to the FCC warning Genachowski not to reclassify broadband. The letter, which was promoted by telecom lobbyists, cleverly included language to support Congressional action to address the issue of net neutrality. But given that Congress was demonstrably beholden to the telecom lobbyists, and with the Republicans threatening the FCC outright, the subtext was clear. No FCC action on reclassification meant no viable chance to implement real net neutrality rules.
CREDO aggressively acted to hold these Democrats accountable for their letter. 119,096 of us signed petitions. We held in district meetings at the offices of 12 signers. But at that point it was too late. The damage had been done.
Chairman Genachowski was quickly cowed by political pressure and signaled an unwillingness to reclassify broadband. And rather than trying to give us net neutrality protections, he has instead sought to find a way of cynically passing something he can claim is net neutrality, when it’s nothing of the sort.
We continued to fight and over the course of our campaign we submitted 158,702 public comments supporting real net neutrality. Our members made over 6,500 phone calls to the FCC. And sent 65,911 faxes to liberal FCC Commissioner Michael Copps in a last ditch attempt to get him to refuse to go along with Genachowski on his fake net neutrality proposal.
In the end, there is no way to paint this decision today as anything less than a defeat for net neutrality advocates and for our democracy.
The process demonstrated a breakdown in institutions of government that are supposed to safeguard the public interest and implement the will of the people. Here we have an example of a federal agency with the full power and authority to fulfill its mandate and protect the public interest, caving to nothing more than the withering stare of those they must regulate. The president said he supported net neutrality. There was no Republican filibuster holding us back. We simply needed the Chairman to propose real net neutrality rules that would hold up in a court of law, and we needed the three Democrats on the FCC to vote to pass them. It was that simple. And yet we failed to make it happen.
The lack of political will to confront the telecommunications giants effectively gave these oligarchic interests a veto over the rules that govern their behavior. In this way the narrow interests of a few powerful and wealthy corporations were prioritized over the public good and the literally millions of people who spoke out and demanded that the FCC protect our free and open Internet.
This is a clear example of industry capture of a regulatory body, and a damning indictment of government institutions that are supposed to regulate — not be run by — corporate interests.
Also let’s remember that a free and open Internet is an important part of 21st Century democracy. By failing to protect it, this set of rulings is similar to the Citizens United Supreme Court decision that tilted the realm of public discourse even more in favor of the wealthy and the powerful.
We have to be honest and share with you who have fought with us for real net neutrality a frank assessment of what just happened at the FCC. There is not right now a next step we can propose that will undo the damage that was done today to the free and open Internet.
But we will not simply lie down and give up. Here are four things you can do now to fight the corporate interests that gave birth to this situation we find ourselves in:
1) Read and share this blog post by our friends at Progressive Campaign Change Committee with three things everyone needs to know about Chairman Genachowski’s fake net neutrality rules. huffingtonpost.com/jason-rosenbaum/breaking-fcc-breaks-obama_b_799844.html
2) Tell the FCC to at least oppose the increased consolidation of our media by opposing the merger of Comcast and NBC Universal. Click here to take action.
3) Harry Reid’s new chief of staff is a former telecom lobbyist and contributor to Republican causes. Tell Reid to fire him. Click here to take action.
4) Lastly, one senator fought to the end — Sen. Al Franken. Click here to join us in thanking him for standing up for net neutrality.
Thank you for continuing to fight.
Matt Lockshin, Campaign Manager
CREDO Action from Working Assets