Here’s What You Need to Know About the FCC’s Net Neutrality Decision

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Karen Bleier/AFP/Getty Images

Thursday was a great day for net neutrality. Everyone feel free to Google, Bing, or Yahoo the Federal Communications Commission and enjoy that sweet, sweet Internet freedom while you click into various sites with reckless abandon — because you can. Net neutrality has been a major issue of concern in recent years, especially given the rapid pace of technological changes and the complete and utter dependence many modern societies, businesses, and economies have on the Internet and the tech industry. Making the next big app or website is like winning the business lottery. As such, the way that Internet is controlled and how service providers are allowed to control online traffic is incredibly important for the future of free Internet use and democratic technology landscape of America. It’s also very good news for businesses like Google, Amazon, and Netflix, who don’t want to have to pay high fees on ISPs.

In a 3-2 vote, the Commission chose to pass “net neutrality” and categorize the Internet as a utility, meaning it cannot be prioritized or slowed by Internet service providers based on payment. The two votes against passage came from Republican members Michael O’Rielly and Ajut Pai. They argue that the policy change is beyond the scope of the FCC and involves the Commission in areas of the market it does not belong, and where problems are not currently even being seen. Both also voiced concerns that the full document being passed — over 300 pages, according to NPR — was not open to the public. The suggestion that no current problems exist with net neutrality is a debatable claim. But the suggestion that, un-policed, Internet service providers wouldn’t do what the market always drives companies to do, and place their financial well being first, is questionable at best.

According to Chairman Tom Wheeler, the decision was come to after an extensive research and discussion period. “We heard from startups and world-leading tech companies. We heard from ISPs, large and small. We heard from public-interest groups and public-policy think tanks. We heard from Members of Congress, and yes, the President,” said Wheeler in his statement. “Most important, we heard from nearly 4 million Americans who overwhelmingly spoke in favor of preserving a free and open Internet.” He went on to discuss the involvement of the public in the net neutrality discussion, something he explains is because “the stakes of the debate … have never been higher.”

Commissioner Mignon L. Clyburn compared the decision to the Bill of Rights and said he believed our forefathers would be proud of the step taken to preserve “free speech, freedom of religion, a free press, freedom of assembly, and a functioning free market,” comparing foreign governments’ policies and the limitations placed on websites and Internet access abroad.

Finally, Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel spoke on the risks avoided by the policy change, emphasizing that the U.S. “cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind.” He warned that “blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization” as well as “gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online,” would “undermine the Internet as we know it.”

While the policy change was not popular with a number of Republican members of Congress, it’s unlikely to be challenged by the Legislature at this point. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Fred Upton (R-Mich.) have worked on a bill that would overturn the FCC’s decision, but does not have the bipartisan support it would need, and many believe no legislation would garner support from both parties in the numbers needed.

We’re not going to get a signed bill that doesn’t have Democrats’ support,” said Thune, according to The New York Times. “This is an issue that needs have bipartisan support.” Obama, on the other hand, has been continually supportive of net neutrality priority, making this decision a solid win in his court, and publicly a well-supported move. While some in the GOP may have called net neutrality “Obamacare for the Internet,” it doesn’t have the same level of controversy or adverse opinion that Obamacare has — not even close.

Part of that may be that many Americans were uneducated on the issue of net neutrality for quite some time, at least according to Pew Research’s Web IQ survey, which showed only 61% of respondents on average knowing what the term even meant. Part of that may have been a coverage problem, reports Pew, which shows a distinct failure to report on the issue across many major news sources for much of 2014. Public comments directed to the FCC did see a spike, it reports, with a net neutrality piece from John Oliver, once again proving the vital nature of comedy in political commentary.

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