Former FCC commissioner Michael Copps has publicly excoriated Congress and the FCC for the state of Internet access in America, which he called "insanity," saying that America's political class "should be ashamed of ourselves." Copps was speaking at a DC event examining the Telecommunications Act of 1996, which created the short-lived practice of requiring American telcoms operators to share their lines with new entrants, allowing many competing DSL providers to flourish. This practice ended in 2005, and led to today's situation in which most Americans have 0, 1 or 2 broadband options.
And that environment is dire. Even taking into account the previous monopolies of 19th and 20th century industry, Copps said, "there has never been a more urgent need for legislators and regulators" to make moves to protect consumers.
He called back to an earlier speaker, who had pointed out that the internet, to most users, had become about the very core of freedom of expression: the freedom to say, read, and watch what we want. And with "the likelihood of gatekeeper control" impending, in the form of the FCC's new proposed net neutrality rule, those freedoms are in danger.
In the end, Copps directly challenged both the FCC and current members of Congress to do more, and do better. "Our democracy depends on what happens between now and the end of this year," he said. "Are we going to have regulators and legislators with enough gumption to make this happen?"
"I know it can," he added, calling on the audience in the room to speak up and make their voices heard with lawmakers. But ultimately, he concluded, it all boils down to two questions:
"Whose internet is it anyway? And whose democracy is it anyway?"