Net Neutrality Timeline: 10 Events That Led to Dec. 14 FCC Meeting

Here's what you need to know before the vote.

An illustration of a semi-spiraled internet cable on a yellow background
Flickr / Mike Licht,

Net neutrality is center-stage as the Trump administration FCC eyes its removal, but this isn’t the first time the war over internet service has waged loudly and publicly.

What started as a way to connect people and spread information has become an industry that’s tightly regulated to ensure speed and access isn’t sacrificed for corporate financial interests. Here are some of the events that have led to where we are in net neutrality today:

10: December 21, 2010: FCC Adopts First Net Neutrality Regulations

The FCC issues an “Open Internet Order” that states internet service providers have to be transparent and can’t block or slow down consumer access to content. Under the Obama administration, this is the first step taken toward achieving net neutrality. However net neutrality advocates criticized the rules for not going far enough to prevent providers from creating priority “fast lanes.”

9. June 1, 2014: Net Neutrality Debate Goes Viral

The FCC was tasked at the start of 2014 with developing new regulations for internet providers after the federal court struck down their original net neutrality rules, and was required to open the issue to public comments for four months. Enter John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight on HBO. “The FCC are literally inviting internet comments at this address,” Oliver joked, before calling upon internet commenters to flood the FCC website with comments calling for the preservation of net neutrality. “With the help of Reddit, [the video] resulted in tens of thousands of Americans complaining to the Federal Communications Commission and crashing the FCC’s online comment system,” Slate reported a week later.

8. February 26, 2015: FCC Adopts Net Neutrality Rules

Led by chairman Tom Wheeler, the FCC approved a new set of net neutrality regulations that focus on maintaining an open internet away from business interests. The rules classified broadband internet service as a public utility, which means it’s subject to government regulation the same as services like landline telephones.

7. June 14, 2016: U.S. Appeals Court Upheld Obama’s Net Neutrality Rules

The Obama-era net neutrality rules survived a challenge from internet service providers in a case that went up to the U.S. appeals court.

“Today’s ruling is a victory for consumers and innovators who deserve unfettered access to the entire web, and it ensures the internet remains a platform for unparalleled innovation, free expression and economic growth,” Wheeler said in a statement. “After a decade of debate and legal battles, today’s ruling affirms the Commission’s ability to enforce the strongest possible internet protections – both on fixed and mobile networks – that will ensure the internet remains open, now and in the future.”

The ruling gave legs to regulations that required broadband to be equally accessible to all consumers and prevented ISPs from charging for faster downloading speeds.

6. November 8, 2016: Donald Trump Elected President

It was no secret when Donald Trump was elected that he was against net neutrality, starting with a tweet from 2014 where Trump called Obama’s internet regulations were a “power grab.”

Trump also early on chose a known anti-net neutrality proponent, Jeffrey Eisenach, as an aide on his transition team to craft strategy on telecommunications and technology.

5. January 23, 2017: Ajit Pai appointed FCC Chairman

It didn’t take long for Trump to appoint Republican Ajit Pai, who was a FCC commissioner, as the newest Chairman. A former member of Verizon’s general counsel, Pai didn’t beat around the bush in saying that he intended to repeal Obama’s net neutrality rules that classified internet as a public utility. Pai has called net neutrality a “heavy-handed” and “unnecessary” regulation.

Flickr / Phil Roeder

4. March 23, 2017: Senate Overturns Obama’s Consumer Protections

On March 28, congress sent to the White House a piece of legislation that would remove privacy measures set up by the FCC that kept internet usage data (browsing habits, app usage, locations, etc.) private from ISPs that would want to aggregate it and sell it to advertisers. While this didn’t have to do with net neutrality, it signaled the FCC’s new approach to letting businesses make money off consumers in new ways.

Reported NPR at the time: In a party-line 50-48 vote Thursday, senators approved a resolution to undo sweeping privacy rules adopted by the Obama-era Federal Communications Commission. If it becomes law, it would also prevent the FCC from setting similar rules again.”

Go deeper: Congress Deletes Internet Privacy: 5 Things You Have to Know

Pai arrives for his confirmation hearing for a second term as chair of the commission before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee in the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Getty Images / Chip Somodevilla

3. April 26, 2017: Ajit Pai Announces Proposal to Repeal Net Neutrality

It didn’t come as a surprise when Pai announced his plans to roll back another Obama net neutrality regulation. e announced that he intended to push the FCC to rescind the utility-like oversight of broadband providers. The FCC chairman released his proposed regulation in full the following day, outlining measures for ISPs to require people to pay for access to certain websites.

2. May 18, 2017: FCC Votes to Open Review of Net Neutrality Policy

The Republican-controlled FCC votes to review Pai’s proposed dismantling of net neutrality, despite another public outcry spurred by Oliver.

Pai’s proposal was titled “Restoring Internet Freedom,” but his definition of freedom is that large ISP’s will have the freedom to control internet access however they see fit, and the millions of consumers who use their services — many of whom don’t have a choice of ISP — won’t have the freedom to visit websites they want because those sites will load annoyingly slow. It also means that people won’t have the freedom to start their own business online because their site won’t load as quickly as established competition that’s paid to have its site in an internet speed “fast lane.”

The vote is set for an FCC on meeting on December 14.

1. July 12, 2017: Net Neutrality Day Sees Advocates Unite

Net neutrality advocates — everyday internet users, a number of tech giants, civil liberties activists, small business advocates — came together to unite against Pai and the pending repeal of net neutrality regulations.

The Net Neutrality Day of Action saw sites like Pornhub, OKCupid, Reddit, and Netflix display messages defending an open internet. Millions of comments were posted on the FCC system and hundreds of thousands signed petitions.

This paves the way for a series of protests planned in December before the FCC vote.

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