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Public Policy 11 December 2017

Net Neutrality and the FCC’s December 14 Vote

By Mark BuellFormer Regional Vice President - North America

Net neutrality is defined differently in different circles. For the Internet Society, it means that an Internet service provider should not block, filter, throttle a users’ Internet usage, or give preferential treatment to one end user or content provider over another. Fundamentally, everyone should be able to access the content and services they choose without corporate or government interference. We believe this will ensure the Internet remains an engine for innovation, free expression, and economic growth. In some jurisdictions, this may require policy, regulatory, and technical measures.

On December 14, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is likely to vote to repeal the 2015 Open Internet Order, which classified broadband providers as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Under FCC Chairman Pai’s proposal, the FCC would yield authority over broadband providers to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

Since the announcement of that vote, many American Internet users have been anxious that their Internet service provider may undo their commitments to provide open access to the Internet for their customers. They are right to be anxious. We are already seeing signs that ISPs may change their net neutrality commitments in light of the upcoming ruling.

American users have been speaking out about what they need and expect from their Internet service experience. Those needs seem to boil down to four things: the free flow of information, competition in the marketplace, consumer choice, and privacy protections.

We call on the US Government to listen to their concerns carefully. American users deserve a sustainable solution that will ensure they have access, choice, and transparency in the broadband market. They deserve to have a watchdog in place to ensure that these principles are protected. Regardless of the legal mechanism employed to achieve net neutrality, the Internet Society believes it is imperative to ensure that Internet users, and the principles of access, choice, and transparency, are at the center of any regulatory regime.

Beyond the U.S., Chairman Pai’s announcement has caused a global reaction. Although the issue at hand is domestic to the U.S., the vote could have global implications. As I’ve written before, “Washington exists in a policy fishbowl.” The world pays attention to the actions of the US Government. If we want the global Internet to continue to develop as a positive driver for social and economic progress, we need to consider that actions here have an impact on Internet users everywhere, and consider the effects that reality might have at home.

The fight for net neutrality is bigger than the vote on December 14. Over our 25 years of working at the heart of the Internet, we have stood firm in our belief that the Internet empowers users with certain abilities, and that these abilities – to Connect, to Speak, to Innovate, to Share, to Choose, to Trust – underpin the social value of the Internet. If the FCC does, in fact, repeal the Open Internet Order, we, the Internet community, must redouble our efforts to ensure that these principles remain at the heart of the Internet experience for everyone, everywhere.

We must insist on vigilance from our policymakers and accountability from Internet providers. For that reason, we ask that before and after the vote, you raise your voice in favor of a sustainable solution, one that will preserve the values that the Internet Society stands for. We can’t afford anything less.

Disclaimer: Viewpoints expressed in this post are those of the author and may or may not reflect official Internet Society positions.

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