U.S. Mayors Defy the FCC with Cities Open Internet Pledge
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may have ruled that telecommunications and Internet providers have the freedom to ignore net neutrality, but a group of mayors hopes to make business more difficult for those who will not honor it.
As of March 2018, the mayors of 11 cities banded together against the FCC. They signed a pledge.
On March 11, the mayors of New York City; Austin, Texas; and Portland, Oregon, announced they were signing a pledge to stand together against the FCC’S decision. The announcement was made at the South by Southwest Conference.
The agreement those mayors signed, known as the Cities Open Internet Pledge, is short but important for all to read and know about. Its preamble sets the stage well:
“The open Internet is under threat. Late last year, the Federal Communications Commission voted to strip Internet users of their rights to choose what they do, where they go and whom they connect with online. Without these net neutrality protections, large phone and cable companies can block, throttle and slow access to sites and services at will.”
The mayors see the threat of the FCC ruling as a serious attack on their cities’ ability to function properly. As they say in the pledge, “Cities cannot allow private Internet service providers to be the gatekeeper between our residents and the local government services on which they depend every day.”
They go on to state the following:
“We each commit our city to take all available steps to ensure the Internet remains open and to keep gatekeepers from throttling, blocking or limiting government content on the Internet. To that end, to the extent permitted by law and within our control, we will:
1. Procure applicable Internet services from companies that do not block, throttle or provide paid prioritization of content on sites that cities run to provide critical services and information to their residents.
2. Ensure an open Internet connection with any free or subsidized service we offer to our residents.
3. Not block, throttle or engage in paid prioritization when providing Internet service directly to our residents, such as through free public Wi-fi or municipal broadband.
4. To the extent permitted, require clear and accessible notices of filtering, blocking and prioritization policies with enforceable penalties for violations to protect consumers from deceptive practices.
5. Monitor the practices of Internet service providers so consumers and regulators can know when a company is violating open Internet principles or commitments.
6. Encourage consumer use of ISPS, including municipal options, that abide by open Internet policies.”
As of March 2018, those who had signed that pledge included the following:
Mayor Bill de Blasio — New York City, New York
Mayor Steve Adler — Austin, Texas
Mayor Ted Wheeler — Portland, Oregon
Mayor Ron Nirenberg — San Antonio, Texas
Mayor Sly James — Kansas City, Missouri
Mayor Mark Farrell — San Francisco, California
Mayor Catherine E. Pugh — Baltimore, Maryland
Mayor Barney Seney — Putnam, Connecticut
Mayor Paul Soglin — Madison, Wisconsin
Mayor Sam Liccardo — San Jose, California
Mayor Jacob Frey — Minneapolis, Minnesota
County Board of Supervisors Chair Zach Friend — Santa Cruz County, California
With the collective buying power of all these cities, their presence and demand for service honoring net neutrality should cause some impact on telecommunications providers who attempt to manipulate Internet service in any way.
The cities are not the only ones taking collective action against the FCC ruling.
On January 16, a single suit was filed collectively by 21 state attorneys general to challenge the FCC’S action. In it, they charged that the elimination of net neutrality was an “arbitrary and capricious” action and broke federal law. As Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman of New York said in announcing the suit, “The repeal of net neutrality would turn Internet service providers into gatekeepers — allowing them to put profits over consumers while controlling what we see, what we do and what we say online.”
The same day, the public interest groups The Free Press and Public Knowledge also filed suits on roughly similar grounds.
The Open Technology Institute, part of the New America organization, also filed suit, alleging that Internet business creators might have to pay fees for faster delivery of content and services to consumers. With Internet providers now having the ability to control such content, they also effectively have the power to stifle competition – another violation of federal law.
On February 27, House Representative Michael Doyle (D-PA) and Senator Ed Markey (D-mass) introduced nearly identical resolutions that would effectively eliminate the FCC ruling. Both were filed under the authority of the Congressional Review Act. The Senate version is only one vote away from passage. If it gets that last vote, the action will go to the House, but the result there is more a question because of the larger Republican majority.
California and half of the states in the nation have also introduced their own net neutrality legislation, with each bill at various stages in its process. During the middle of March, California state senator Scott Wiener introduced SB 822. It is a comprehensive act with provisions to stop the blocking and throttling of websites as one major part. It would also make it unlawful for ISPS to offer “paid prioritization” contracts, where a company like ESPN might buy the rights to get priority rights over smaller competitors with less money to put on the table.
With all this pressure, one might hope for the laws to change sometime soon in favor of net neutrality once again. Unless it happens in Congress via the bills already working their way through, the legal battles running in parallel will likely take a long time. This is why the move by the mayors standing together with their Cities Open Internet Pledge is so important. It could be the means of applying enough concentrated economic pressure on the ISPS to hold back on any blocking or throttling moves they might be considering right now.
Then again, the counter-challenge from the ISPS and the FCC itself might be that what the mayors are doing is interfering with interstate commerce. That is something only the federal government has the right to regulate.
Paradoxically enough, the ISPS could also claim the mayors are interfering with the ISPS’ right to Free Speech under the First Amendment. That would be even crazier than repealing net neutrality in the first place.
You can stand up for net neutrality by boycotting companies like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T who oppose net neutrality and control the FCC, and by supporting community owned telecommunications.
We get what we pay for and when we do business with criminal corporations we can expect to be cheated and have our rights taken away from us.