Show Me The FCC Rules Please?

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Leave it to Washington DC to hand Americans what is probably the greatest consumer victory from that town in a decade, then to not show them the actual rules.

This morning my 8 year old and I listened as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared "All bits are created equal" and voted for a new age of Internet freedom and openness for the most powerful platform in the world. The historic vote took place over 300 pages of rules that may not be public for days.

As a consumer advocate for two decades, I can tell you the devil is always in the details and the public is not privy to any of them yet.

That's not to say this isn't a huge victory for consumers akin to the implementation of other civil rights and freedoms. Exhibit A: This is the first public policy debate my son ever cared about. The fact that some students cannot stream educational videos because they are too poor to have access to broadband is the ultimate, unfathomable denial of liberty to him.

There's no question the FCC made history. The issue is how big of a win is it. All we have is an outline from the FCC Chair and an oped, as well as comments from the 5 commissioners.

The Internet may be a lot freer and more open thanks to net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC today, but the Federal Communications Commission clearly doesn't value freedom and openness in its communications. Two commissioners apparently pushed for releasing the proposed rules prior to the vote but were overruled.

What's the difference really if the net neutrality rules are a big stride forward for opening the digital commons, our modern town square, so that the deep pockets and empty pockets' data travel at the same speeds?

Hail a development as one of the greatest in modern democracy, you better prove it — which is particularly true in light of last minute lobbying by Internet Goliaths that suddenly had second thoughts about supporting net neutrality if they were going to be regulated too.

At the last minute, Google for one lobbied against including the FCC's net neutrality plan and rules on "interconnectedness" that would include possible prohibitions on the company, including establishing new privacy rights for consumers.

Did Google and so-called "edge provider" prevail in limiting the FCC's reach over their operations? Will real privacy protections come with the new net neutrality rules?

Inquiring minds won't know for days.

Note to FCC: In a democracy, the governed should be privy to details of their victory at the time of its celebration. It's a remarkable omission in an otherwise flawless reform campaign and implementation that put a face on the problem, made the issue concrete for Americans, and showed a big industry who was really in charge.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was right in chastising the broadband industry and declaring that the rule changes were no more a secret plan to regulate the Internet than the first amendment was a secret plan to regulate speech. But there's no denying one other difference. The Bill of Rights wasn't kept private before the vote to adopt it as part of the Constitution.

Jamie Court
Jamie Court
Consumer Watchdog's President and Chairman of the Board is an award-winning and nationally recognized consumer advocate. The author of three books, he has led dozens of campaigns to reform insurance companies, financial institutions, energy companies, political accountability and health care companies.

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