This article is for all you nay-sayers our there: The FCC Net Neutrality rules passed through vote today, reclassifying the internet to a Title II public utility among other important policy changes.
In short, network companies like Comcast or Time Warner are now more easily regulated by the FCC and our ISPs can’t throttle traffic to sites and all data passed through their networks must be treated equally.
Eight months ago, the state of Net Neutrality appeared in flux. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposed rules at the time would have allowed for tiered networks, pretty much defeating Net Neutrality. Just watch the video below for what the climate was at the time. Thanks to a period of open public comment and an influx of enough comments and phone calls to plug up the FCC’s systems, Wheeler changed that initial proposal to something that absolutely would practically cement Net Neutrality as policy. Thanks to names like John Oliver (embedded below), a few Reddit posts, and of course most of the internet, the FCC changed its stance and today voted through policies fully in favor of protecting a free and open internet.
“It [the internet] is our printing press; it is our town square; it is our individual soap box and our shared platform for opportunity,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said during the open commission meeting today, “That is why open internet policies matter. That is why I support network neutrality.” The truth is, nothing’s really changed all that much. The Net Neutrality discussion wasn’t necessarily about putting anything up that would fundamentally change the internet as we use it, but rather it was about blocking anti-consumer practices some internet service providers wanted to push. This included forcing businesses to pay extra in order for internet service providers to give them a “fast lane” and not throttle traffic to that site. This handy image shows exactly how Netflix’s traffic was throttled until they caved and made a deal with Comcast back in Febraury. It’s blatant and obvious nonsense like this the new rules and regulations put in place by the FCC will prevent. The FCC, in a separate vote, also overturned state laws that protected ISPs from local competitions, helping add the possibility of some competition to the marketplace. If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of what Net Neutrality is, check out this amazing rundown by Engadget.
President Obama took the time to write a short message to Reddit reading “Thanks Redditors! Wish I could upvote every one of you for helping keep the internet open and free!” In a longer, not-handwritten note he wrote “Earlier today, the FCC voted to protect the free and open internet – the kind of internet that allows entrepreneurs to thrive and debates over duck-sized horses and horse-sized ducks to persist. This would not have happened without the activism and engagement of millions of Americans like you. And that was a direct result of communities like Reddit. So to all the redditors who participated in this movement, I have a simple message: Thank you.” [Side note: Look at the username who was mentioned in the Reddit Blog. Yeah, that’s me.]
Needless to say, the debate isn’t over. Verizon already pretty much to promised to sue if today’s ruling came about, and Wheeler expects suits to come. Verizon also updated its policy blog with the title “FCC’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ Move Imposes 1930s Rules on the Internet,” showing you exactly what they think of the ruling. No, your computer is not broken, they were salty enough to update the blog in MORSE CODE. Even their news release is full of salt, presented in smudged typewriter font. “Today’s decision by the FCC to encumber broadband Internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that preages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators, and investors,” the release reads. “Over the past two decades a bipartisan, light-touch policy approach unleashed unprecedented investment and enabled the broadband Internet age consumers now enjoy.” Later the release reads, “Changing a platform that has been so successful should be done, if at all, only after careful policy analysis, full transparency, and by the legislature, which is constitutionally charged with determining policy. As a result, it is likely that history will judge today’s actions as misguided.” I’m 99% certain Verizon’s going to sue.
Keep in mind, this vote in the FCC was split along party lines. Democrat Tom Wheeler was joined with Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel to vote 3-2 against Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly. The vote is close enough that a change in one commissioner could eventually lead to an overturn of the policy. While this is definitely a win, and the future for Network Neutrality looks brighter, we still need to remain cautious. There are dingos out there!