FCC December Open Commission Meeting, Washington, D.C.
Today’s meeting is being live streamed. We’re also live tweeting this morning from @FCC. Join the conversation for these open Internet rules using #oir. A statement from Chairman Genachowski and the full slate of commissioners will be posted to the FCC homepage shortly following the meeting.
This is about the vibrancy of the Internet. Its freedom, its openness, its unfathomable potential. Today we affirm that hallmark. The last twenty years have demonstrated the importance of the Internet in virtually every layer of American society. Yet adequate protections currently do not exist. These rules will get the job done.
Every student who dreams an app, every curious tinkerer who devises a device, every innovator who sees an opening to push our nation forward. And every speaker who enters their discourse into the marketplace of ideas, every business owner who reaches for the next American summit. That’s who we’re protecting today. While we recognize the need for a measure of restraint in this changing landscape, and have included provisions to that end, the wonders of the Internet must not be stifled.
The majority of the focus this morning will center around the open Internet rules. Today’s commission meeting, however, will hear two items. First, a presentation from the Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau on a Framework for Next Generation 911 Deployment. This will mark watershed movement for our nation’s first responders by developing a framework to provide multimedia resources beyond voice-only. Then we will tackle the final item, Preserving the Open Internet. Votes on both of these items will follow their presentation.
The commissioners take their place and the meeting is set to begin. A capacity crowd is on hand to witness this historic day.
First, the Next Generation 911 item. As Public Safety Bureau Chief Jamie Barnett announces, the order takes the form of a “Notice of inquiry concerning the transition from the current, voice-only 911 system to a broadband-enabled, next-generation 911 system.” More complex participation, allowing for texts, video, and multimedia in contacting 911. After the presentation, commissioners make remarks.
“It’s time to bring 911 into the digital age… 911 is an indispensible tool. Broadband can make it even better,” Chairman Genachowski says. Commissioners’ comments are roundly positive with Commissioner Baker thanking public safety professionals, first responders, and agency staff for vaulting 911 into the next generation. Vote on the Notice of Inquiry for deployment passes unanimously.
We now move to the momentous item of the morning. FCC staff line the table to present the Preserving the Open Internet and Broadband Industry Practices order. Chairman Genachowski cedes the microphone to Sharon Gillette, Chief of the Wireline Competition Bureau.
“This order will establish three basic rules: transparency, no blocking, and no unreasonable discrimination,” Gillette says. “Collectively they protect and empower consumers. Provide clarity for broadband providers.”
Entrepreneurs, investors and consumers depend on these principles. Broadband providers require stability. Home broadband has grown astronomically and they now have the financial viability they seek. “Rules we propose will bring increased certainty to this vital sector of the American economy,” Paul de Sa says.
Wireless Telecommunications Bureau Chief Ruth Milkman takes over. Consumers are using mobile broadband at an accelerating pace. Users are gaining greater access to a diverse range of applications and programs. Concerns have been raised about blocking. We are adopting a measured approach. Mobile providers may not block access to lawful websites or block apps that compete with their voice and video telephony services, where providers have the most incentive to leverage their position.
Chief Counsel Austin Schlick details the Commission’s legal authority. The 1996 Act confers “authority and discretion to settle on the best regulatory or deregulatory approach to broadband.” We’re also charged with promoting competition, overseeing broadcasting. Blocking limits the ability of broadcasters to have equal access over the internet. “In short,” Schlick says, “the open Internet rules will permit efficient, nation-wide communications.”
With the conclusion of the presentation, senior Commissioner Michael Copps begins. “It is my hope we will continue the great American Internet story… We cannot afford to relegate Internet authority to large corporations and think of what might have been.” Previous communications technologies have also fallen victim to private control. “In 2003 I warned that the Internet may be dying because of a lack of provisions.”
All we need to do is look at the history of the FCC. Commissioner Copps gives a brief history of the outgrowth of the telephone and demonstrates how its deregulated path follows that of the Internet. “Sound familiar?” Copps asks. One company, AT&T, insisted that for safety and maximum progress they needed to dominate the industry. He fears today’s order doesn’t go far enough, “in my book today’s action would and could have gone further. I considered dissent very seriously. But it’s clear to me that without action today, work on network neutrality would halt.” Copps ensures the importance of today is lost on no one. “We have in our grasp now the most promising communications technology in all of history. Needs to be responsive to all, available to all, and affordable.”
Commissioner Robert McDowell begins his dissent – “for those joining us for the first time” – by noting that over 90% of the votes at the FCC are bipartisan and unanimous. He disagrees sharply with how we should provide for an open Internet. “The era of legal Internet arbitrage has dawned,” he says. Says the measure is becoming politicized. McDowell sites several government studies to bolster his argument. His contention: nothing is broken that needs fixing; FCC does not have authority; proposed rules will cause irreparable harm.
Two lengthy statements later Commissioner Mignon Clyburn makes remarks. She will concur in part, approve in part. There are areas in the current order she would have liked strengthened. “First, I would have extended all of the fixed rules to mobile. Some communities, such as African-Americans, rely on mobile Internet more than others.” While the route taken is not the one she would have picked, she believes it is appropriate for the Commission to act. “Without an open Internet, consumers will have few choices and opportunities.”
“I really, really, really dissent,” says Commissioner Meredith Baker. The Commission put its thumb on the scale for how the Internet will operate. “At best, the majority solves a problem of its own making.” She says this order will add to uncertainty. Baker details her seven complaints, warning against preventing prospective harm.
As the final speaker of the afternoon, Chairman Genachowski takes the mantle. He opens with a quote from World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, “The Web as we know it [is] being threatened.” Today we are adopting enforceable rules to preserve open Internet values, The freedom and openness of Internet is unprotected. No process for monitoring, no recourse for innovators, no predictability for providers.
There are those on both extremes, Chairman Genachowski says, I reject both. “We heard familiar comments today, often trotted out to oppose any government action.” The lack of basic rules of the road are starting to hamper growth. Commonsense rules are key for economic growth, job creation and competitiveness. Even after the Commission promoted Open Internet principles in 2005, we’ve seen clear deviations.
At the same time, government must not overreach or pretend to have knowledge about this dynamic and rapidly changing marketplace that we do not possess. “Today we’re adopting rules of the road that strike the right balance,” he says. “Our action will advance our goal of having America’s broadband networks be the freest and fastest in the world. And our action will ensure Internet freedom at home, a foundation of our argument for Internet freedom around the world.”
The Chairman will now lay out the key principles the order enshrines.
The six principles are as follows:
1) Transparency. Consumers and innovators have a right to know the basic performance characteristics of their Internet access and how their network is being managed.
2) No Blocking. A right to send and receive lawful traffic. This prohibits blocking of lawful content, apps, services, and the connection of non-harmful devices to the network
3) Level Playing Field. A right to a level playing field. A ban on unreasonable discrimination. No approval for so-called “pay for priority” arrangements involving fast lanes for some companies but not others.
4) Network Management. An allowance for broadband providers to engage in reasonable network management. These rules don’t forbid providers from offering subscribers tiers of service or charging based on bandwidth consumed.
5) Mobile. Broadly applicable rules requiring transparency for mobile broadband providers, and prohibiting them from blocking websites and certain competitive applications.
6) Vigilance. Creation of an Open Internet Advisory Committee to assist the Commission in monitoring the state of Internet openness and the effects of our rules.
Chairman Genachowski concludes his remarks and the afternoon’s meeting. “Today a strengthened FCC is adopting rules that empower consumers and entrepreneurs and protect free expression. These rules fulfill many promises, including a promise to the future. A promise to the companies that don’t yet exist, the entrepreneurs that haven’t yet started work in the dorm rooms or garages.”
A vote is taken and the order passes 3 – 2, with “ayes” from Genachowski, Copps and Clyburn; dissents from McDowell and Baker.