Friday was the one-year anniversary of the FCC’s Open Internet Order, which established strong network neutrality rules in the U.S., in part by reclassifying internet service as a public utility. As Public Knowledge’s Meredith Whipple observes, “despite the clamoring of the ISPs that Title II would be the end of times, the Internet ecosystem is stronger than ever.”
It’s important not to forget that the rules that finally passed a year ago were vastly improved, from a public interest point of view, compared to the original rules proposed by Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2014. That proposal would have permitted so-called “commercially reasonable” discrimination of internet traffic, effectively creating an “internet fast-lane” where well-heeled companies would have been able to buy a faster route to your devices.
Much of the credit for Wheeler’s and the FCC’s turnaround in favor of strong network neutrality is due to the massive amount of public comment and outcry. A lot of organizing by public interest groups like Public Knowledge and Free Press helped to educate and galvanize people on the issue, while providing tools and instruction for having their voices heard by the Commission. In the end nearly four million people registered comments with the FCC on net neutrality, breaking the previous record set by complaints over Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl “wardrobe malfunction” in 2004.
Of course, the big internet service providers didn’t take this lying down. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals is deliberating a legal challenge made by three industry trade associations representing cable, telephone and wireless internet providers. A decision should be coming along in the very near future.
We at Radio Survivor care about network neutrality because the internet has become an intrinsic part of the medium. It is a near requirement for terrestrial stations to have an internet stream, not just to serve far-away audiences, but to serve local listeners who, for any number of reasons, don’t have access to a station’s air signal. The ability to have multiple internet streams has allowed many terrestrial stations to try out new formats and expand their programming beyond the limitations of their one broadcast channel.
Moreover, internet radio has been the site of innovation, from Pandora’s Music Genome-driven customization to the many new LPFM, community and college broadcast stations that got their start online, like Seattle’s Hollow Earth Radio and the Chicago Independent Radio Project. Internet radio has provided a less expensive and more accessible alternative to starting a terrestrial broadcast station, great diversifying the range of voices that may now be heard around the world.
Network neutrality means that, as a listener, you have the right to access any internet station or podcast you like, on an equal playing field with iHeartRadio, Spotify, NPR or the BBC. The FCC’s Open Internet order protects this.
Although small and medium-sized independent webcasters currently face financial challenges posed by new, higher royalty rates, your choice of internet station may not be encumbered or otherwise limited by your internet service provider.
So at this moment let’s reflect on this public interest victory, but also remember that network neutrality may yet still need to be defended in the courts and in Congress.
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