Are you getting ready?
Are you going to be ready?
You’re really ready, right?
These were the questions running through our minds and often spoken aloud in our interactions with the Federal Communications Commission during the long wait for a fully functional agency.
On Sept. 7, Anna Gomez, the fifth FCC commissioner, was finally sworn in.
And less than 24 hours later, we got the answer: Yes, the FCC is ready and already moving to restore Net Neutrality and its Title II authority to referee high-speed internet providers.
In a speech at the National Press Club, Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel declared:
The repeal of Net Neutrality put the FCC on the wrong side of history, the wrong side of the law, and the wrong side of the American public. It was not good then, and it makes even less sense now. It determined that this infrastructure, which the pandemic proved is so essential for modern life, needs no oversight, and I think that’s just wrong. So today we begin a process to make it right.
We never doubted that Rosenworcel would advance Net Neutrality and Title II — the fundamental portion of the Communications Act that gives the FCC the authority to regulate companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon that provide high-speed internet access and other telecommunications services. She has been outspoken on these issues and, as a commissioner, played a key role in sharpening and strengthening the strong rules passed by the Obama FCC in 2015.
What’s so important about this speech, and the heavy lifting happening behind the scenes at the FCC, is the recognition that the FCC needs to move fast to fully restore its authority well before 2025, when a future Congress or administration could undo it.
The good news is that the FCC will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, or NPRM, at its next meeting on Oct. 19. That will kick start a likely six-month process to repair the damage done by the Trump administration and get these rules right.
How the Net Neutrality debate has changed
Just as crucial is the Chair’s recognition that this won’t be your slightly older brother’s Net Neutrality fight. The internet and broadband marketplace has changed a lot since we first put this issue on the map in 2005 and through all the highs and lows of this fight — a roller coaster that saw millions mobilized like never before, the only standing ovation in the history of FCC meetings, and crushing disappointment when an industry-friendly, Trump-appointed chair took it all away.
We’re no longer living in a world where we have to debate whether internet access is essential infrastructure — the pandemic answered that question once and for all.
Industry lies about reduced investment have been completely proven wrong. The benefits of big, open pipes with a plethora of streaming choices are apparent, and the old cable model that forced you to subsidize Fox News or ESPN — no matter what you actually watched — is collapsing.
Thanks to a strong Net Neutrality laws and executive orders implemented in California and other states after the Trump FCC abdicated its responsibilities, we have enjoyed a precarious status quo where blatant blocking and throttling schemes have been thwarted. “But when you're dealing with the most essential infrastructure in the digital age, we benefit from having one national policy,” said Chairwoman Rosenworcel on Tuesday.
Title II: now more than ever
Indeed, most Americans still have no clear protections in place. The importance of Title II is that it gives the FCC the authority to ensure high quality, affordable two-way communications services are universally available, even as the market and technology continue to evolve. Title II gives the FCC the power it needs to stop price gouging, protect privacy, promote competition and step in when the ISPs — which still rank as the least popular companies in the country, for good reason — do you wrong.
Without Title II, the FCC is a toothless watchdog, left begging these powerful companies not to shut off service or raise prices during a national crisis like COVID or local emergency like a wildfire. Without Title II, the agency can’t protect the public against abuses by large, monopoly-minded ISPs like AT&T. Without Title II, broadband users are left vulnerable to discrimination, content throttling, dwindling competition, extortionate and monopolistic prices, billing fraud and other shady behavior.
Everyone may not be aware of the intricacies of the Communications Act, but we all know what it’s like to wait on hold for hours with unaccountable cable companies. What we actually want are choices, privacy protections, and a free and open internet — which is why for years polls have shown broad support across the political spectrum for Net Neutrality and empowering an agency to enforce it.
Inside the Beltway, the issue often gets distorted by the industry’s sock-puppet army, which has already been deployed to spread disinformation. See, for example, Bloomberg’s recent coverage of the former “Obama lawyers” touting a new “legal analysis” suggesting the FCC’s actions won’t withstand legal scrutiny, while conveniently forgetting to mention the whole “study” was bought and paid for by the big cable and phone trade associations.
The noise is only going to get louder now that the FCC has stepped into the fray. At Free Press, we’ll fight back on multiple fronts: alerting activists, debunking industry lies in the media, educating lawmakers, shaping the actual rules at the agency and, eventually, defending them in court.
So are we ready?
We’ve been preparing for this moment for months and months. We know what it takes to win a fight like this — we’ve challenged and defeated these powerful companies before, overcoming their deceit, dirty tricks, and even a deluge of fake comments — and we know we can’t do it alone.
So, yes, we’re ready.
But we’re going to need your help. Donate today to support our fight to win back Title II and Net Neutrality.