Over the last ten years, millions of people came together to protect the open internet. This is their story.
In February 2015, the Federal Communications Commission enacted strong open internet protections and reclassified broadband as a public utility based on Title II of the Telecommunications Act. And in June 2016, the United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rejected a lawsuit from large Internet Service Providers that sought to strike down the FCC’s rules.
Together, these two victories ensure generations to come will have access to an incredibly powerful communication and organizing platform: the free and open internet.
The following videos, a production of the Media Democracy Fund and Line Break Media, chronicle the campaign’s final push leading up to the FCC vote in the words of the people who fought tirelessly to protect our essential communications rights in the digital age. In addition to celebrating the accomplishments of this increasingly diverse and sophisticated field, we hope the videos will serve as a case study for other advocates working for positive social change.
An Overview of the Campaign
Net neutrality is the principle that all communication on the internet must be treated equally. An implicit ‘First Amendment’ for the internet since the inception of the world wide web, everyone from public interest advocates to businesses and government institutions relies on net neutrality for fair access to their audience. Without net neutrality rules, Internet Service Providers would be free to block, slow, or discriminate against internet services, applications, or content for any reason. This video describes the importance of the issue and provides an overview of the campaign.
Selected highlights from the campaign for net neutrality
Net neutrality took more than ten years of hard work to win – more than could possibly be described in a single video series. These three videos each bring a single highlight of the campaign into clear focus, shining a spotlight on a key example of extraordinary work.
Building a coalition that’s strong enough and broad enough to achieve a major policy victory like net neutrality takes time, energy, and sustained investment in effective collaboration. This video tells the story of the organizing approach and coalition structure that mobilized support for the Federal Communications Commission’s vote for open internet rules.
Battles like net neutrality are only won when decision makers understand the real impact a policy will have on the lives of the people they serve. This video tells the story of the campaign’s public education work, with a spotlight on the organizing effort that culminated in a statement by Representative John Lewis about the importance of an open internet for civil rights organizing.
The enormous wave of net neutrality comments that poured into the Federal Communications Commission represents one of the most extraordinary successes of the campaign. Over four million people took time out of their lives to write to a federal agency – more people than had ever commented on any issue being considered by the FCC. This video tells the story of the mobilizing approach and tech tools that amplified public engagement with an issue that could have been dismissed as arcane and technical.
Academic research and analysis that made the legal and policy arguments for open internet rules was particularly essential. From Tim Wu’s seminal efforts to define net neutrality, to Barbara van Schewick and Susan Crawford’s work on internet architecture, legal frameworks, and policy approaches, academic research and analysis played a critical role in supporting the open internet debate.
The FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order was not the agency’s first attempt to enact net neutrality rules, and the campaigns waged in 2014 and 2015 were preceded by a number of efforts to protect the open internet. This timeline illustrates some of the steps (and mis-steps) along the way to strong, clear open internet protections.
Since the ability to control the speech and content they transmit is in the business interest of many Internet Service Providers, a coalition of ISPs brought a lawsuit to overturn the FCC’s open internet rules immediately after they were approved. At stake: whether the FCC could reclassify broadband under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, which provides broad regulatory authority; whether the new rules could be applied equally to mobile as well as wired connections, since the Telecommunications Act was written before mobile data connections were widespread; and whether ISPs’ First Amendment rights were infringed by preventing them from modifying other people’s speech.
Several public interest organizations from the coalition intervened on behalf of the Federal Communications Commission in the case, while others wrote amicus briefs supporting the open internet rules. The United States Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit heard oral arguments from both sides on December 4th, 2015.
The court’s decision, released on June 14th, 2016, agreed with the FCC’s position on every issue and sub-issue. The FCC’s reclassification of broadband under Title II was upheld, net neutrality rules were extended to mobile devices, and the ISPs’ First Amendment argument was dismissed. Further, the decision avoids many issues that would be likely to draw review of the case by the Supreme Court. Though the ISPs have vowed to continue the legal fight, this resounding legal victory provides a firm foundation for the protection of the open internet.
As FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler himself said of the campaign:
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