When FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled his plans to introduce a new set of rules that fell far short of real net neutrality, he may not have anticipated the reaction that was to come.
Since then the internet has erupted in widespread and passionate public outcry, generating tens of thousands of emails & phone calls. Protestors have encamped in front of the FCC building for six days straight. Musicians, actors, comedians and other creative professionals are raising their voices. The independent label community (represented by the American Association of Independent Music) has once again come out swinging in favor of protecting the online playing field, joining a broad array of activists, organizations and companies.
All this action hasn’t gone unnoticed. In response to the furor, Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Ajit Pai have called for the May 15 vote to be delayed. Meanwhile, commissioner Mingon Clyburn has reiterated her preference for real net neutrality, not the shoddy substitute that would allow ISPs to create fast and slow lanes.
Wheeler has thus far resisted calls to delay the vote, which is still scheduled for Thursday morning, but rather has announced revisions to his draft, which he hopes will satisfy critics. But even with these revisions, Wheeler’s proposal is still fundamentally flawed.
For net neutrality proponents, it’s important to understand that the task ahead, isn’t just to stop a bad new order, but to get a good new order implemented that can replace the rules thrown out by a federal appeals court in January. That court ruled that if the FCC wanted to enforce net neutrality, it would have to use a different legal rationale. The simple solution is for the FCC to reclassify broadband providers as “common carriers”, thus providing the authority to prevent ISPs from picking winners and losers.
Wheeler’s latest draft promises more scrutiny for deals that broadband providers could strike. But that scrutiny won’t amount to much if enforcement efforts won’t hold up in court. Wheeler’s still thinking about using Section 706 of the Telecom Act which would leave far too much room for gatekeeping deals that privilege some content providers over others.
And while it’s encouraging that Wheeler’s starting to ask some better questions about whether reclassification should be considered, it’s no time to take the pressure off.
Let’s be clear: Net Neutrality is not dead yet. But it’s up to all of us to keep it alive.