The Internet is essential infrastructure for most of today’s American businesses, and for citizens’ civic engagement, education, and daily life. As a group of enlightened Senators said yesterday “it carries our most important information and our greatest ideas.” The Internet was launched and commercialized on common carrier networks and has thrived within a framework of openness that includes nondiscriminatory end user access and network interconnection.
While various FCC and court decisions over the past ten years have resulted in today’s absence of any legal safeguards for our familiar jewel of an open online ecosystem, that fundamental openness is as important to the “public interest, convenience and necessity” as it ever was, but is also far from a sure thing. So many regular folks understand this that their crush of messages has now crashed the FCC website for the second time this year.
Many business plans, large and small, global and local actually depend on an open Internet. Fortunately, the Telecommunications Act’s Title II provisions, as updated in 1996, are technology neutral and require the FCC to ensure that consumers have access to “an evolving level of telecommunications services,” taking into account advances in technology, and without regard to whether copper wires or fiber optic lines are employed, and without regard to whether the communications contains voice, video or data.
The FCC therefore has the firm statutory authority it needs to establish legal safeguards for broadband Internet access, according to consensus principles around openness, nondiscrimination and “innovation without permission.”
Given that the FCC has the legal authority to craft basic safeguards to preserve open Internet access for consumers, students, entrepreneurs and businesses well into the future, it should use it wisely and do so very soon.