The Federal Communications Commission has finally taken the necessary steps to preserve a free and open Internet by guaranteeing net neutrality.
With the commission’s 3-2 vote on Thursday, the issue is settled.
Then it will rise again. No, there will not be a mass outcry against net neutrality, the premise that all Internet communications should be treated equally. There will be no popular demand for ending net neutrality protections against the development of a two-tier Internet, where “paying” content (from multinational corporations and powerful special interests) moves on an information superhighway, while “non-paying” content (from grassroots groups and dissenting citizens) is diverted onto a digital dirt road.
But there will be campaign donations, lobbying and spin from telephone and cable companies that have too much at stake to give up on the fight for an end to rules that prevent them from subdividing the Internet for profit. Telecommunications conglomerates stand to make a lot more money if they can charge extra to move some communications more quickly—creating a circumstance where corporations and politicians with the right connections can pay for commercial and political advantages in the digital age.
The telecom giants cannot establish a pay-to-play Internet if the FCC enforces strict net neutrality protections. That’s why it was so vital that media reform, civil-rights and community groups first made net neutrality an issue and then succeeded in building a mass movement on behalf of basing new net-neutrality rules on Title II of the Communications Act—a step that would allow regulation in the public interest rather. That’s why it mattered so much that President Obama embraced net neutrality and urged his appointees to the FCC to do the same. And that’s why the FCC’s embrace of net neutrality is such a big deal for communications and democracy.
There is much to celebrate. In an era when corporations so frequently get so very much of what they ask for, it is both good and hopeful that a federal agency is acting on behalf of the public interest. “Today’s vote is the biggest win for the public interest in the FCC’s history,” says Free Press president Craig Aaron. “It’s the culmination of a decade of dedicated grassroots organizing and advocacy. Millions of people came to the defense of the open Internet to tell Washington, in no uncertain terms, that the Internet belongs to all of us and not just a few greedy phone and cable companies.”