The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) today voted to propose open internet rules, in its latest attempt to establish net neutrality regulations. Since February, tens of thousands of people have submitted comments to the FCC on how to best keep the internet open and free, and an Occupy-style protest demanding that the agency “save the internet” has been held outside the agency’s office in Washington, DC for the past week. The activism has helped shape the proposal released today, and the FCC says that it will continue to listen to the public.
The proposal asks the public as many questions as it answers, centering on how to prevent internet service providers from interfering with the way web users and content creators experience the internet. In other words, how do we keep the internet “neutral” so big broadband companies can’t discriminate against competing content? How do we prevent such companies from levying fees for access – and, potentially, priority delivery speeds? There are currently no regulations keeping big companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast from harming the internet in these ways, and the FCC has already determined that they have “the incentive and ability” to do so.
Given the recent court ruling that threw out the agency’s 2010 Open Internet rules, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has “tentatively” proposed to regulate the internet under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. After details of Wheeler’s original proposal went public last month, consumer advocates worried the proposal would allow internet service providers to strike deals with wealthy content providers like Netflix for high speed, priority “fast lanes” for delivering content to consumers, while leaving startups, nonprofits and small businesses in “slow lanes.”
Wheeler said the FCC would have the power to intervene on a case-by-case basis to block deals that could be commercially unfair and, in response to public outcry, he recently revised his proposal to ensure that no one would end up in “slow lanes.” But that was not enough to silence his critics.
Today’s proposal now asks the public if such “paid prioritization” deals can be banned outright. It also asks the public if the FCC should scrap Wheeler’s proposal to classify the internet under Section 706 and instead reclassify it as a Title II “common carrier” service that could be regulated more like a public utility, a move that internet freedom advocates say is the only way that the FCC can establish net neutrality rules with teeth.
At Truthout, we believe that a free and open internet is a crucial tool for sharing information that empowers the public to hold the powerful accountable and to take the action necessary to build a better world. Corporate control of the web would stifle the voices of our movements, so we must act now to ensure the internet stays free and open. The FCC has opened an extended four-month comment period on its open internet proposal and related questions. In a statement, the commission said it “wants to continue to hear from Americans across the country throughout this process.”
The future of the internet hangs in the balance, so Truthout staffers are already speaking out about what internet freedom means to us. You can send your own comments to [email protected].
William’s View: Protect Access to the Sum of Human Knowledge
Every once in a while, I’ll pull my phone out of my pocket for no real purpose. I won’t make a call or send a text. I’ll just hold it in my hand – this little black thing, a thoroughly unremarkable Smartphone – and stare at it with a kind of wonder. These things – smartphones, tablets, the internet itself – are so ubiquitous now that we take them utterly for granted, but every once in a while, I like to look at my phone and revel in the astonishing fact that I am holding the sum of human knowledge in the palm of my hand.
Every book, every newspaper, every recorded moment of history, every dictionary and encyclopedia, every language, every recipe, every how-to manual: it’s all right there with the click of a couple of buttons. For sure and certain, “the sum of human knowledge” also contains a fair budget of gibberish, nonsense and outright lies, but the same is true in any library or newsstand in the world. It is the sheer volume of information combined with the easy accessibility that staggers me when I think about it … and we are still in the infancy of this thing. It seems like it’s been around forever, but in point of fact it is brand new, and still growing. As far as I am concerned, the information available on the internet to all people everywhere represents the next step in human evolution, if it is handled correctly.
We face a dangerous crossroads regarding the fate of the internet. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is on the cusp of issuing new rules that could redefine what has been known as “Net Neutrality.” To wit: everything on the internet is treated equally; the most meager of bloggers enjoys the same rights and privileges as the largest media megacorporation. Net Neutrality is the only way the internet will work as the wide-open free-flowing information base we have come to expect and demand, and if those rules change to favor the powerful over the rest of us, it will be the beginning of the end of one of the most important innovations the world has ever seen. Don’t let it happen.
—William Rivers Pitt
Candice’s View: If We Lose Neutrality, Youth Will Bear the Brunt
The prospect of the internet becoming “cable-ized” has specific implications from a generational perspective. As youth have become the driving force behind many emergent forms of social media, many young people have come to rely on the internet as their only source of information. For example, I haven’t owned a TV since I moved out of my parents’ house when I was 18. This is no exaggeration. I don’t watch TV. Of course, I still watch movies with friends, but that’s about it.
So the threat of a loss of net neutrality is really scary for someone who relies on the internet as their sole access to any information whatsoever. As young people are rapidly experiencing more and more barriers to the middle class, they are relying on the internet more and more to save money. Some young people I know don’t even pay for a phone bill – but will pay an internet bill and just rely on social media to communicate with friends and family. A loss of net neutrality will be felt disproportionately by young people.
Dahr’s View: Corporate Powers Are Redrawing the Landscape
The FCC’s machinations should be viewed in the context of corporate powers playing the “long game” in redrawing the information landscape of the internet, creating a dramatically imbalanced playing field. If you think the FCC is working to treat individual internet users the same as large companies, think again.
What is under threat is independent media’s ability to use the internet as a tool to disseminate information. As an independent journalist writing for what I believe is the most independent news outlet on the internet, if corporate power gets its way online, our platform is at grave risk of being taken from us.
Mark’s View: Commercialization Will Accelerate
When BuzzFlash started publishing in May of 2000, the internet was just emerging as a robust bulletin board for democracy and activism. The stock market had gone wild over net tech stocks, but it had overreached because few companies could figure out how to monetize the relatively new interactive public communications medium.
Around the middle of the last decade, however, technology and software had advanced to allow for targeted advertising that was even able to follow the consumer interests of net users from site to site. In addition, new forms of ads developed, as did pay walls and other monetizing options. Facebook may have activist uses, but its business model is to deliver as many details about consumer preferences to advertisers as possible in order to make a profit to justify its stock value. Twitter will not be far behind, perhaps with an ad accompanying every tweet. Moreover, there are increasing dangers that the ability to use social media for activism could be compromised by a variety of corporate and governmental tactics. This for-profit commercialization of internet sites will continue to accelerate, no matter what the FCC decides in its forthcoming action.
At Truthout and BuzzFlash, it is our obligation to continue to offer a strong beacon of light amidst the net’s evolution from a check and balance on the mainstream media to an increasingly corporate-owned cable TV model of business.
Maya’s View: The Internet Has Never Been Neutral
I’ve always been a little skeptical of the term net neutrality. Of course, it’s crucial to fight as hard as we can to resist the whole-scale corporatization of the internet. But it’s also important to bear in mind that the internet has never been neutral when it comes to one towering issue: access to the products necessary to use it.
Eighty-seven percent of US adults use the internet these days, but the highest concentrations, by far, are among folks with relatively high household incomes and college degrees. Whole swaths of the population – including prisoners and people confined within other facets of the prison-industrial complex – are forcibly barred from access. And many people who identify as internet “users” do not own a computer or smartphone, and are able to access the net only on public, school or work computers – certainly not a “neutral” degree of access.
So, as we’re debating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes,” let’s remember that for many, many people, the road to internet access has always been slow. And lots of folks are still stuck in traffic. Access and internet freedom aren’t only about FCC proposals and court decisions. If we view the internet as a right that must be accorded to everyone, we must imagine and prioritize the kind of services that would open the door to this vital public sphere for all people.