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Maple syrup, the Green Mountains, and network neutrality. On February 15th, Vermont Governor Phil Scott signed Executive Order No. 2-18, the Internet Neutrality in State Procurement, following closely the actions of four other Governors over the past few weeks. You can read the E.O. here.
States Take A Stand
Like similar actions in Montana, New York, Hawaii, and New Jersey, Vermont’s executive order applies to contracts between ISPs and state agencies. The order directs the state Agency of Administration to change its procedures so that any ISP it contracts with doesn't throttle, engage in paid prioritization, or block content. The Agency of Administration has until April 1st to make the changes to Vermont’s procedures.
If a state agency cannot obtain services from an ISP that agrees to comport with network neutrality policy, the state agency can apply for a waiver. The E.O. is silent as to what would allow a waiver; presumably the Agency of Administration would need to establish criteria.
Action In The State Chambers
In early February, the State Senate passed S.289 with only 5 nays and 23 yeas. The executive order Scott recently signed reflected the intention behind the language of S.289 regarding state contracts. When Sen. Virginia Lyons introduced the bill, she described it as a necessary tool to ensure transparency in government. “We don’t want to see information held back or slowed down or deviated in any way when it relates to our state or local government,” Lyons said.
After the FCC chose to overturn federal network neutrality protections on December 14th, 2017, open Internet advocates and elected officials that favor network neutrality have sought avenues past the Commission to reinstate the policy. In Louisiana, four groups of citizens organized together to form Team Internet and stage Louisiana rallies in four cities in January. Their goal was to bring attention to the overwhelming opinion that network neutrality benefits Internet users and to convince Senator John Kennedy that he should vote to block the harmful FCC decision.
Fight for the Future (FFTF), Free Press Action Fund, and Demand Progress worked together to form Team Internet, which organized protests in Lafayette, Shreveport, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans at Kennedy’s offices. At the Lafayette office, a group of advocates led by Layne St. Julien presented petitions with more than 6,000 signatures to Kennedy’s deputy state director, Jay Vicknair. The petitions urged Sen. Kennedy to use his vote to overturn the FCC action.
According to Vicknair, constituents have called and emailed the office in numbers rivaled only by last year’s healthcare debates.
Advocate Tool, The CRA
Proponents of network neutrality — mostly people, companies, and entities that aren’t big ISPs — consider the FCC’s order harmful. In order to regain network neutrality protections, which would remove the threat of paid prioritization and better ensure an open exchange of ideas online, advocates hope to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA). Under the CRA, Congress can reverse the FCC decision within 60 legislative days of it being published in the Federal Register as long as there is a majority vote. At last count, 50 Senators had committed to supporting a reversal. Public Knowledge has created a quick video describing the process:
At the recent Team Internet protest, attendees called on Kennedy to “be a hero” and be the 51st.
In A Net Neutrality Zone
The FCC is set to vote on whether or not to repeal network Neutrality under the deceptive guise of “Restoring Internet Freedom” on December 14th. Like others who study broadband and telecommunications policy, we’re distressed by the possibilities for the Internet and its users, should the Commission decide to repeal these protections. Because we use the Internet for so much in our daily lives, reversing network neutrality will give big ISPs like Comcast and Verizon undue power over what information we receive, our online business, and the result may negatively impact innovation.
We’ve gathered together some of our earlier posts on network neutrality to help explain why the policy is so important. In this collection, we’ve included some of our own writings as well as media that we consider paramount to understanding why we need to preserve network neutrality.
The Basics At 80 MPH (Video):
An old but a goody. In this video, Professor Tim Wu explains network neutrality, including paid prioritization. The video is from 2016.
The Big ISP Perspective (Video):
Many of us consider a free an open Internet a necessity to foster innovation and investment, but the words from the lips of the big ISPs are changing, depending on whom they’re talking to. This video reveals what they tell the government about network neutrality versus what they tell investors.
The Small ISP Perspective (Audio):
Like other small ISPs and municipal networks that offer services to the public, Sonic takes the opposite view of Comcast, Verizon, and other big corporate incumbents - they believe network neutrality is important and should be preserved. Dane Jasper, Sonic’s CEO and Co-Founder explains why innovation needs network neutrality in episode 261 of the Community Broadband Bits podcast.
During the Obama administration, the FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler made bold steps to protect innovation and competition on the Internet by passing network neutrality rules. With new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, network neutrality is in danger. In order to prevent the backward slide - or worse - we all need to comment to the FCC and tell them to preserve network neutrality protections.
Stepping Back In Time
Under Chairman Wheeler, regulations were put into place that prevented ISPs like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T from slowing down specific websites or charging extra fees to certain sites, who then must pass along those fees to customers. Rather then turning the Internet into just another version of Cable TV, the FCC has preserved its neutrality - now those actions are at risk.
Chairman Pai announced soon after he was appointed that he wants to roll back the rules implemented during the Obama administration, which includes eliminating “Title II” of the Communications Act protections for broadband. Title II provides the legal basis that prevents blocking and throttling.
On May 18th, the FCC released a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM); comments are due July 17th. What does the mean? It means it’s time for you to contact the FCC here (Proceeding 17-108) and let them know that you want in network neutrality and that you believe existing rules should stay in place.
If you’ve never commented on an FCC proceeding, here’s an article from Gigi Sohn, former Counselor to Tom Wheeler, who can offer some tips on an effective comment. You can also read some of the other comments submitted by others.
The new FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has not been shy about letting the public know that the agency, under the new administration, will undo many of the net neutrality protections of the Obama years. Unsurprisingly, the FCC website has been taxed with heavy traffic as concerned citizens reach out to comment.
Many of us consider what will be available to us if ISPs are able to decide which content has access to “fast lanes” through paid prioritization. Artists who create that content have the same concern.
This short video from Public Knowledge highlights the words of Francis Ford Coppola in his open letter to the FCC. He asks the agency to remember its place in history and to protect artistic innovation from corporate greed. In other words, “leave the gun, take the cannoli.”
It’s good for you, it’s good for all of us, and for many people, discussing it is as thrilling as watching paint dry. We’re talking about the principle of network neutrality, if course.
Stephen Colbert has found a new way to share this important issue and he has found a thrilling way to do it - on a roller coaster with Professor Tim Wu!
Check it out!
To try to stop the Network Neutrality rules established earlier this year, big cable has filed suit against the FCC in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit. Advocates have drafted a brief to let the court know that the people are not willing to give up Network Neutrality. In a matter of days, that brief will be filed with the court.
From the Net Neutrality Brief website:
Without Net Neutrality, the big cable companies would control the Internet, and make it harder for us to access information that doesn't align with what's best for the companies' bottom lines or that disagrees with their political leanings. If Net Neutrality weren't the norm, we might even have been blocked from engaging in the online activism that helped secure the Net Neutrality rules that we're now working to defend!
Read the brief. Sign the brief. Spread the word.
The Institute for Local Self-Reliance recently submitted comments to the FCC as part of its Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet proceeding. ILSR focused on the issue of paid prioritization, reclassification, and regulation of content. We also provided some examples of municipal networks that provide fast, reliable, affordable service and do not rely on paid prioritization to serve customers.
From the ILSR comments:
The FCC should be extremely wary of any arguments that claim paid prioritization or other discriminatory practices are necessary to increase investment in next-generation networks. These networks are already being built and paying for themselves in both public and private approaches (as well as partnerships mixing the two). ILSR sees no reason to believe any additional revenues gained by discriminatory pricing would be reinvested in improving DSL and cable networks as the largest firms operating these networks generally face little competitive pressure to upgrade. That is the problem, not a lack of revenue in the current model.
Our reading of the various court decisions suggest the only option for the FCC to preserve the open Internet and prevent big cable and telephone companies from tinkering with the established principle of non-discriminatory carriage is reclassification and urge the FCC to take this step. However, we also urge the FCC to take actions to prevent any regulation of content. The FCC should concern itself with the transmission of information, regardless of what that information is, consistent with long-held Internet principles.
The Open Internet proceeding has inspired an estimated 1 million+ comments. The outpouring strained the FCC's system and as a result, the FCC extended the comment period to July 18th.
The full document is available below for download and available on the FCC's electronic filing system.