At Thursday's Federal Communications Commission meeting on proposed net neutrality rules, Chairman Tom Wheeler said that "the prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable." And yet, that's precisely what the FCC would be—a gatekeeper—no matter what rules the agency adopts. And if it determines to go forward with the proposal Wheeler seems to prefer, it will create a two-tiered internet, and there will be winners and losers.
But, as David Dayen argues, Wheeler has been moved, and has opened up a process for deciding this new rule that is much more encouraging to internet activists than any of us could have hoped for when the news of the proposed rule leaked a few weeks ago.
Under massive public pressure, the FCC has shown itself more responsive than Congress, opening up a legitimate debate over the rules. Tech firms have linked arms with the public against the Wheeler proposal. And what activists consider the only path to true net neutrality—reclassifying broadband Internet under Title II of the Communications Act as a common carrier service, allowing the FCC to regulate it like phone lines—has moved from an impossible dream to a more viable alternative.People power appears to be working in Congress, too. In 2010, 74 Democrats wrote a letter to the FCC on behalf of the big telecoms, opposing net neutrality. This week, the telecoms could only muster 20 Democrats on a similar letter. Meanwhile, 34 other House Democrats signed on to the idea of reclassifying broadband as a public utility.
People power did this—that allegedly outdated work of targeted mass organizing that isn’t supposed to make a difference in our increasingly oligarchical society. Over 3.4 million Internet users took action in some form against the FCC’s proposed ruled in the past three weeks, according to Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron. Dozens of protesters “occupied” the FCC, camping out for a week in tents, joined by hundreds in a mass rally today outside the meeting room.
We've got four months to keep up that momentum, to make the FCC come around to realizing it is going to have to be a gatekeeper, and in that role, the commission has no business picking winners and losers. So let's keep pushing.