Net Neutrality is Ready for Action. Is the FCC?

It's put up or shut up time on Net Neutrality. That’s what Rob Pegoraro wrote in the Washington Post earlier this week.

And he’s right.

The fate of the open Internet now rests in the hands of FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The chairman just needs to muster the courage to do right by the millions of Internet users who demand an Internet of, for, and by the people.

Rep. Henry Waxman tried last week to craft a bipartisan compromise on Net Neutrality only to have his bill deep-sixed by hostile Republicans on the Commerce Committee, who are eager to smother the open Internet should voters hand them a majority in November.

Waxman passed the issue back to Genachowski with clear instructions to “move forward” and reassert the agency’s authority to protect consumers against content blocking efforts by the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Verizon.

FCC No Brainer

Genachowski now simply needs to buck up. His next step would seem a no brainer to anyone viewing the issue from beyond the Beltway: reclassify broadband under Title II so the FCC can protect Internet users against corporate censors.

Sadly, the view from the eighth floor of the FCC – which has been circled by industry lobbyists for months – is not so apparent.

Pegoraro wrote:

The issue here is simple: Should the government prevent Internet providers from discriminating for or against legitimate sites, services and applications?

That's not a theoretical risk. Telecommunications firms and some networking experts have argued for the right to charge other sites more for faster delivery of their data or put the brakes on some online uses that they feel clog their networks.

The FCC can save us from a future where corporations privilege certain content over others by following Genachowski’s original plan unveiled in 2009 and “write a simple set of net-neutrality rules,” concludes Pegoraro.

“An agency chair has to make tough decisions which, more often than not, contradict the desires of the largest companies with stakes in the outcomes, Free Press President Josh Silver told NPR last night. “Julius Genachowski is terrified of making those decisions.“

We’ve Got Your Back, Julius

Delivering on Net Neutrality isn’t that frightening. Genachowski just needs to call a Commission vote to restore the FCC as a watchdog of our online rights. He has the legal clearance, political cover and momentum to make this vote happen. He just needs to be reminded of that:

1. Congressional leadership: House Commerce Committee Chairman Waxman told Genachowski to "move forward under Title II." Support for FCC action has also been voiced by leading Democrats on the Commerce Committee, including Reps. Anna Eshoo, Ed Markey and Jay Inslee. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has given Genachowski the nod, calling Net Neutrality, reclassification and universal access “priorities for us”;

2. Opinion leaders in media: Pegoraro’s Washington Post column was just one among the clamor of voices in media calling for action. The editorial boards of major daily newspapers, including the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, the San Jose Mercury News and USA Today, have called for FCC action;

3. Genachowski is the swing vote for a majority of FCC Commissioners in favor of Title II and Net Neutrality. Both Commissioner Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps have indicated that they favor this move. To get it done, Genachowski simply needs to call the vote;

4. President Obama has publicly urged Net Neutrality protections on at least seven occasions. He appointed Genachowski with the understanding that this would be job one at the FCC;

5. In 2009, the FCC's commissioned a Harvard study, which concluded that Bush-era deregulation created a latticework of local broadband monopolies and stuck Americans paying more for some of the slowest Internet speeds in the developed world. The study concluded that reclassification would restore our global Internet leadership;

6. And, most importantly, more than two million Americans have demanded that Washington protect the open Internet from blocking and discrimination by corporations.

The chairman can put a clear Net Neutrality standard on the books by calling a commission vote and reclassifying.

The move has the added benefit of giving clearance for the agency to proceed on plans to bridge the nation’s digital divide and invite more consumer choice into a broadband marketplace dominated by too few players.

All of our efforts to make this happen have come to this moment, right now, and to this chairman, Julius Genachowski. He simply needs to step up.