After more than a decade of policy debate in Washington, the FCC earlier this year finally quit trying both to appease giant legacy monopoly telecom and cable Internet access providers and to ensure open Internet access connections for American homes and businesses.  The FCC’s Open Internet Order has now been published in the Federal Register and will take effect in June.  It is not some newfangled concoction.  It closely resembles a proposal known as “the Third Way” developed by the previous FCC chairman in 2009, but scrapped for fear of unleashing exactly the sort of outsized political backlash now being directed at Congress and massive litigation launched by a few entrenched network operators and their allies.

Seven or eight years ago, the most active companies advocating for open Internet access were Amazon, eBay, Google and Skype. Twitter was barely a twinkle and I don’t know how we really lived without Pandora.  Then last year, a whole new generation of younger Internet platforms including Netflix, Foursquare, Etsy, Tumblr and many others arrived on the policy scene fully grasping the critical importance of open Internet access to their online businesses.   They jumped into the fray with energy and conviction about “innovation without permission” from network providers.   Along with tech venture capitalists, these entrepreneurs organized and came to Washington for meetings on the Hill and at the FCC.   They made a huge difference in the policy debate, and provide a good case study of how well democracy can work at the confluence of business, technology and consumer interests.


The FCC’s 2015 Open Internet decision was painstakingly developed after over a year of unprecedented public input including a tsunami of millions of written comments and an exhaustive series of intensive workshops and debate.   The 2015 Open Internet Order firmly establishes the importance of local Internet access networks as the critical telecommunications infrastructure of our time.  Most folks in Congress should agree on that much, and broad support for the principles of net neutrality has now been established.  Yet there are some who still insist no actual FCC oversight or enforceable rules are necessary to protect consumers and small businesses against commercial abuses by their internet access providers.

The FCC’s historic new resolve to escape capture by the very companies Congress expects the agency to hold accountable sets a good example for the rest of the world as well.  Neither governments nor infrastructure companies should be able to interfere with users’ choices of online content.  There can be no global Internet freedom or digital economy without widespread local open Internet access in each country.   A few countries in Europe and South America, plus Mexico have already adopted legal access protections.  Canada treats Internet access logically as a common carrier service.  It was past time for the U.S. to get our own open Internet house in order.

Next up for our expert agency in telecommunications: “Competition, competition, competition” as Chairman Wheeler has often emphasized.  This is a call for public policies that will promote real choices for high speed fixed and mobile wireless connectivity, landline broadband connections, interoperable electronic devices, access to premium video programming and, with open Internet access the law of the land, continued proliferation of online platforms.  Spectrum repurposing and sharing are a big part of such pressing policy development.  And competition will help drive innovation and investment in networks, platforms and other tools for free expression, education, health care and growth in our digital economy.

Sloan, a telecom and Internet industry advocate, is the former vice president of Government Relations at Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA).