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CHAPTER IV - Epilogue

The open Internet debate remains a contentious policy issue, and is even starting to attract the attention of citizens outside of traditional political circles. It received an extra burst of attention following the midterm elections of November 2014 when President Barack Obama, in a surprising move, came out behind strong net neutrality protections in a way he had not previously. He said if the FCC reclassifies Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act to treat it as a utility, the agency will be better positioned to protect equal access to information and to ensure huge Internet service providers don't dominate the market deleteriously.

“This is a basic acknowledgment of the services ISPs provide to American homes and businesses, and the straightforward obligations necessary to ensure the network works for everyone—not just one or two companies,” Obama said.

Obama's recommendation to the FCC has four components that are in line with the principles for regulation recommended at the FOCAS Forum. They also match many of the millions of online comments sent to the FCC and the proposals by advocates for strong protections. The components of the recommendation include:

  • No blocking. All legal sites should be accessible from all ISPs.
  • No throttling. All sites and services are delivered at the same speed and none receive preferential speeds.
  • Increased transparency. To allow the FCC to evaluate an ISP's entire network.
  • No paid prioritization. No service has to or can pay an ISP to be delivered to users at faster speeds. (This would mean that companies like Netflix wouldn't have to cut deals with ISPs anymore.)

ISPs have pushed back in a big way, with a newly-elected Republican Congress on their side. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, likened net neutrality to “Obamacare for the Internet,” a sign of how contentious a political debate regulating the Internet has become in the U.S.

In its 2015 Open Internet decision the FCC in a 3-2 decision (along party lines) chose to follow the President’s recommendation and base its rules on Title II of the Communications Act. It also applied the rules to wireless carriers. ISP associations (telecommunications carriers, cable operators) have appealed to the same appellate court that has reversed previous attempts to codify net neutrality rules, and Congressional leaders are proposing to adopt new legislation that would clarify the FCC’s jurisdiction to adopt net neutrality rules, but limit how far the FCC could go in adopting such rules.

Outside debates in the U.S., growth of the mobile-based, global Internet continues to rocket. The nations that are likely to decide structural norms around the Internet are far flung—Brazil, China, India and other developing nations. One major concern among Internet leaders is the reality that some of the fastest-growing places for Internet connectivity are also under the most repressive governments. Laws are being written to prohibit digitally distributing content that opposes the government; outright censorship is happening in places like Russia, Turkey and China; and if beating repression is a priority, the tools that measure digital repression and undermine filters and throttles are critically underinvested. While conversations at FOCAS largely focused on domestic threats to Internet freedom, the principles laid out by the group are meant to be transferable to questions of Internet governance across industries, and the globe.

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