THE BLOG

Show Me the FCC Rules, Please?

02/26/2015 02:12 pm ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

Leave it to Washington, D.C., to hand Americans what is probably the greatest consumer victory from that town in a decade and then fail to show them the actual rules.

This morning my 8-year-old and I listened as the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) declared that "all bits are created equal" and voted for a new age of freedom and openness for the most powerful platform in the world. The historic vote took place over 300 pages of rules that may not be public for days.

As a consumer advocate for two decades, I can tell you that the devil is always in the details, and the public is not privy to any of them yet.

That's not to say that this isn't a huge victory for consumers, one akin to the implementation of other civil rights and freedoms. Exhibit A: This is the first public-policy debate my son ever cared about. The fact that some students cannot stream educational videos because they are too poor to have access to broadband is the ultimate, unfathomable denial of liberty to him.

There's no question that the FCC made history. The issue is how big of a win is it. All we have is an outline from the FCC chair and an op-ed, as well as comments from the five commissioners.

The Internet may be a lot freer and more open thanks to net neutrality rules adopted by the FCC today, but the FCC clearly doesn't value freedom and openness in its own communications. Two commissioners apparently pushed for releasing the proposed rules prior to the vote but were overruled.

What's the difference, really, if the net-neutrality rules are a big stride forward for opening the digital commons, our modern town square, so that the deep pockets' and the empty pockets' data travels at the same speeds?

Hail a development as one of the greatest in modern democracy and you'd better prove it -- which is particularly true in light of last-minute lobbying by Internet Goliaths that suddenly had second thoughts about supporting net neutrality if they were going to be regulated too.

At the last minute Google, for one, lobbied against including the FCC's net-neutrality plan and rules on "interconnectedness" that would include possible prohibitions on the company, including establishing new privacy rights for consumers.

Did Google and so-called "edge provider" prevail in limiting the FCC's reach over their operations? Will real privacy protections come with the new net-neutrality rules?

Inquiring minds won't know for days.

Note to the FCC: In a democracy the governed should be privy to the details of their victory at the time of its celebration. It's a remarkable omission in an otherwise flawless reform campaign and implementation that put a face on the problem, made the issue concrete for Americans, and showed a big industry who is really in charge.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler was right in chastising the broadband industry and declaring that the rule changes were no more a secret plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment was a secret plan to regulate speech. But there's no denying one other difference. The Bill of Rights wasn't kept private before the vote to adopt it as part of the Constitution.