During the past two decades, as the Internet flourished and transformed our society, several major corporations have assumed dominant “gatekeeper” positions, threatening net neutrality. Among them, the large Internet service providers, or ISPs: AT&T, Verizon, Time Warner and Comcast. These four phone and cable companies make massive, multi-billion-dollar profits while charging enormous fees and providing, at best, lackluster service.
In 2004, the Federal Communications Commission, under its then-chairman, Michael Powell, the son of Secretary of State, Gen. Colin Powell, set forth principles for an “open Internet.” In practice, these favored those very corporations that profit from a regulatory “light touch.” Powell left office and became the head of the cable industry’s lobbying organization, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association (NCTA), demonstrating clearly the corrupt revolving door between federal regulators and the industries they are supposed to oversee.
Nearly 10 years later, President Barack Obama named Tom Wheeler, the former head of the NCTA, to lead the FCC. Wheeler was a major donor to Obama’s presidential campaigns. After a federal court struck down the “open Internet” rules, Wheeler announced that the FCC would be making new ones. Advocates for a free and open Internet were worried that this former lobbyist would end the Internet as we know it, handing the keys over to the major telecom and cable corporations.
This announcement sparked a massive protest movement. Led by organizations like Free Press and Public Knowledge, people camped out in front of the FCC for days. More than 4 million people commented on the rules, making this the largest response to any federal request for public comment in history.