The FCC has now received 3 million comments on keeping the Internet open and preventing discrimination by Internet access providers. That record level of interest indicates the FCC now needs to hear from those outside the DC bubble in person.
The FCC is obligated by law to protect “the public interest, convenience and necessity.” By population, just about 95 percent of the American public lives and works outside of Washington, DC. That is why the agency sometimes has seen fit to hold field hearings around the country while formulating some of its most important national policies, like the one for broadband deployment announced in 2010. Establishing the first enforceable rules to safeguard open Internet access for consumers and businesses for the future is one such important national policy. The record breaking hundreds of thousands of public comments submitted to the FCC this year on this subject confirm its widespread significance.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy held a hearing on the open Internet this summer in Vermont. Congresswoman Doris Matsui is conducting another session next week in Sacramento, California, where two FCC Commissioners, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel will be among the witnesses.
But as yet, no actual FCC field hearings beyond the Beltway have been slated. Granted, the roundtables being held this week in southwest Washington along the Potomac River are excellent opportunities for debate among many of the usual suspects from the DC insider community for the benefit of policymakers. They just do not provide diverse input from ordinary Internet users, businesses, and nonprofits.
The impact of the FCC’s 2014 decision on open Internet rules will be felt far into the future not just throughout the United States, but around the world where governments of many diverse nations of all sizes take cues from ours, and citizens and businesses want and need the open Internet access that increasing numbers of Americans have enjoyed since the web was first launched some twenty years ago. They want freedom from Internet access restrictions. If customers of U.S. Internet access providers lack legally enforceable rights, what will that mean globally? Maybe it will lead to population and business migration to Estonia, Canada, and Sweden. Let’s not go there.