A Victory for Everyone Who Uses the Internet
February 26, 2015 marks the greatest commitment ever made to preserve and protect an open and free Internet. On this day, the Federal Communications Commission has acted decisively to protect the rights of Internet users to employ any legal applications, content, devices, and services of their choosing on the broadband networks they rely on. Today, the FCC has made sure that the Internet remains a platform for all consumers, content creators, and innovators, regardless of their ability to pay infrastructure owners special fees for special access.
Ten years after the FCC first adopted a policy statement on the Open Internet, we now have strong, enforceable network neutrality rules, consistent with the nation’s core values. The FCC’s action today demonstrates that there is a public interest at stake across all communications media – be they telephone networks, broadcast stations, wireless, or today’s networks of computer networks. At the Benton Foundation, we have always focused on closing the digital divide and supporting digital inclusion, so the most vulnerable populations can participate fully in a diverse media system and in our democracy. Today, the FCC took action to make this a reality.
Strong, enforced net neutrality means access. An Open Internet means consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others. This openness promotes competition. This openness also enables a self-reinforcing, virtuous cycle of investment and innovation in which new uses of the network lead to increased adoption of broadband, which drives investment and improvements in the network itself, which in turn leads to further innovative uses of the network and further investment in content, applications, services, and devices.
Strong, enforced net neutrality means diversity. By increasing broadband adoption, an Open Internet will benefit diversity as new users seek and make available content that is relevant to their lives. This will increase: 1) the availability of media content reflecting a greater variety of perspectives and 2) the number of independently owned content outlets. Unimpeded access to Internet distribution allows, for example, new video content creators to create and disseminate programs without first securing distribution from broadcasters and pay TV companies.
Strong, enforced net neutrality means equity. At its core, net neutrality is about fairness in the way all users and creators are treated. By treating Internet traffic equally, Open Internet rules recognize that, on the Internet, we are all receivers, producers and sharers of information. Each of us has the potential and – under net neutrality rules – the ability to create the next eye-witness report, the next viral video, the next online movement.
Strong, enforced net neutrality will enhance our democracy. The Internet offers a forum for a true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity. Local, state, and federal government agencies, for example, use the Internet to communicate with the public, provide information, and deliver essential services. Due to the lack of gatekeeper control, the Internet has become a major source of news and information, which forms the basis for informed civic discourse. Many Americans now turn to the Internet to obtain news, and its openness makes it an unrivaled forum for free expression.
Strong, enforced net neutrality rules are crucial for our most-vulnerable communities. People of color, low-income consumers, seniors, people with disabilities, and rural communities are traditionally-marginalized voices that rely on the Internet as a critical — and unique — tool for communication and empowerment. The Open Internet provides a means for these communities to dispel misperceptions and stereotypes that restrict their political, social, and economic participation. It enables them to connect with others, express their viewpoints, and obtain basic information and resources. Equal access to Internet content thus means equal access to opportunities that are vitally important to vulnerable populations in light of the disadvantages and discrimination they face.
Strong, enforced net neutrality means innovation. With the rules adopted by the FCC today, everyone – regardless of where they live or how much they earn – will continue to benefit from the exponential innovation that has continued to drive new solutions to almost everything and everyone the Internet touches. An Open Internet means that new services and applications, new processes and ideas, and the freedom to create will continue on the Internet unimpeded.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has made a fast, fair and Open Internet his top priority and, with this action, he has taken vital steps to help ensure that. The choices the FCC makes today, and the legal justification for them, have been politically difficult. But these were the choices that had to be made if the FCC was to ensure the continued value and viability of the Internet. FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel should also be commended for supporting these important steps.
Today’s actions are the result of real-life democracy and the interplay between the American people and the institutions that serve them. Academics, public interest advocates, foundation leaders, legal scholars, members of Congress, and representatives of associations and corporations were able to express their opinions and debate this issue in detail through public comments and visits with FCC policymakers, at FCC round tables and hearings. Best of all, millions of Americans made their voices heard over the past 13 months, writing the FCC to insist on strong, enforceable net neutrality rules. Positions were modulated, changed, refined. And yes, the President weighed in. The Benton Foundation salutes this vital democratic process and the end result which is a victory for everyone who uses the Internet.
Chairman, Benton Foundation
Director of Policy, Benton Foundation