The Revolving Door, the Internet, and Net Neutrality

The Revolving Door threatens our democracy and nothing demonstrates this better than the current assault on Net Neutrality, a national issue that impacts all of us and is important to me, personally.  The legal basis for Net Neutrality, the concept that Internet service providers cannot discriminate and purposely deliver data from selected sites faster or slower, comes from the original classification of the Internet as a “common carrier” network regulated under Title II of the Communications Act.  

In 2002 Michael Powell, then chairman of the FCC, classified broadband Internet access as information service, which is not subject to the same protections as common carrier service. His successor at the FCC then proceeded to apply this designation to all Internet access services and, to compensate, issued regulations that were supposed to uphold Net Neutrality.

These rules, however, did not hold up to legal scrutiny and were recently struck down by a federal court. In response, Tom Wheeler, current chairman of the FCC, came out with a regulatory proposal that, while ostensibly aimed to protect Net Neutrality, would allow Internet service providers to charge content providers for faster delivery of their data. In practice this means that large content providers like Netflix can cut deals with, say, Comcast, to ensure reliable delivery of their content, leaving smaller companies with less financial clout behind. In fact shortly after the court ruling Netflix actually did make such a deal with Comcast.

Thanks to FCC’s deregulation of the telecommunications industry, all done in the name of promoting competition but resulting in exactly the opposite, Internet access is now  controlled by monopolies - just consider how many Internet options Seattle residents have.

But this is not enough for corporations like Comcast who would like to be able to gouge the market at both ends: charge us to access the Internet and charge content providers to access us. And the Revolving Door has certainly been helpful to cable companies. Michael Powell, the FCC chairman who classified broadband internet access as information service, thus excepting it from the protection of Title II, now heads the National Cable and Telecommunications Association. Tom Wheeler headed the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association before becoming chairman of the FCC.

What can you do? Leave a comment with the FCC: under 10-127 Framework for Broadband Internet Service and/or 14-28 Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet. Alternatively, you can send an email with your comments to or sign the ACLU’s petition: