The Internet – A Crucial Tool for the LGBT Community

March 17, 2015

It is extremely important for the LGBT community to understand the recent decision handed down by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the impact it has on a crucial tool to our community – the Internet. “The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet, it’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field.” – FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler. On February 26th, by a 3-2 party line vote, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed what many consider the strongest net neutrality rules to date: the FCC voted to classify broadband Internet service providers (ISPs) as “Title II” common carriers. This designation allows the FCC to set rates, open infrastructure access to competitors and grants the agency broader powers to regulate ISPs in general. More specifically, the new rules forbid paid prioritization – in which ISPs create “fast lanes” for specific content – throttling, and the blocking of legal content. Opponents of the new rules, including two of the FCC’s own Commissioners, argue that the rules are unnecessary and represent dangerous and illegal government interference in the open market. Broadband providers, specifically, are concerned because the new regulations grant the FCC the authority to set rates on the broadband services that cable companies provide and to regulate the backend of the Internet. The Commission has stated that it will “forbear” from rate regulation and is using Title II solely as a back-stop to ensure the new rules are on sound legal footing. Proponents of Title II say it is necessary so the FCC can expand its enforcement powers and so the rules survive the inevitable court challenges from ISPs. There is also Congressional activity that could prove to be the compromise both sides are seeking. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., the third-ranking Senate Republican and the chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said that he intends to make a push for legislation while courts litigate the rules that just passed. Thune’s proposed legislation would prevent many of the expressed concerns voiced by net neutrality proponents. His legislation would prevent the slowing of online traffic, the blocking of lawful content by providers, or requirements to pay higher fees for faster speeds without expanding the FCC’s power under Title II to regulate these providers. Thune vows to push ahead with this legislation and continue discussions with different parties to help shape the legislation. One thing is certain: the battle over the net neutrality rules is just beginning. A number of parties, including Internet and cable service providers big and small, as well as Republicans in Congress, will challenge the FCC’s authority to even establish these rules in the courts and in Congress. Former FCC Chairman, Michael Powell, who is now President and Chief Executive of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association has hinted at a lawsuit already. “I think it’s just too dramatic, too serious a change not to ask the court to review the propriety of what the Commission did,” said Powell to the Washington Post. UPDATE: March 19, 2015 10:31am The U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science & Transportation held an open yesterday on the Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission. 

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