On Jan. 14, 2014, a federal court of appeals struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s Open Internet Order, which was designed to prevent Internet service providers from blocking or slowing users’ connections to online content. The court did not comment on the validity of these rules but simply said that the FCC had used the wrong legal foundation to justify them.
In response, on May 15 FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler released flawed Internet rules that would have let ISPs charge content companies for priority treatment — relegating all other content to a slower tier of service.
Wheeler’s plan would have allowed telecom giants like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon to pick winners and losers online and discriminate against online content and applications. And it would have destroyed the open Internet.
Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to devise new schemes to charge users more for access and services, making it harder for us to communicate online — and easier for companies to censor our speech. The Internet could come to resemble cable TV, where gatekeepers exert control over where you go and what you see.
Without Net Neutrality, ISPs would be able to block content and speech they don’t like, reject apps that compete with their own offerings, and prioritize Web traffic (reserving the fastest loading speeds for the highest bidders and sticking everyone else with the slowest).
Free Press mobilized the public and political leaders to protest Wheeler’s proposal and urge the FCC to reclassify broadband access services under Title II of the Communications Act — which is the only way to protect real Net Neutrality.
Four million people — a record-breaking figure — submitted comments on the FCC’s plan, and more than 60 members of Congress spoke out. In November 2014, President Obama joined the call and urged Wheeler to reclassify under Title II.
On Feb. 4, Wheeler confirmed that he will use Title II to give Internet users the strongest protections possible. The full Commission approved his proposal on Feb. 26 — marking the biggest victory for the public interest in the FCC's history.
There have since been attempts in Congress and the courts to overturn these protections, and on May 13, 2015, Free Press filed a motion to intervene in the industry-backed court case challenging the rules. Oral arguments in the case were heard on Dec. 4, with a ruling expected in the first few months of 2016.
There will be other fights ahead. No matter what, the Internet must remain a forum for innovation and free expression. Open, affordable, fast and universal communications networks are essential to our individual, economic and political futures.