How The FCC Makes Its Rules

How the FCC Makes Its Rules

It's been hard to go a day without hearing news about the Chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, and his highly contested plan for the future of network neutrality. Google and Netflix signed a letter with nearly 150 other internet companies calling on the FCC to reconsider its plan, which would purportedly bless the creation of "internet fast lanes". Over a million people across the US have spoken out against that idea, worried that a "pay to play" internet will be less hospitable to competition, innovation and expression.

And while Chairman Wheeler and his fellow commissioners have been blogging about the FCCs proposal, no text has been released to the pubic. Not yet, anyway.

But mark your calendars. This Thursday, May 15, the FCC will finally unveil its "Open Internet" proposal. The last two weeks have been packed with statements, previewing what we can expect for Thursday, and it's not pretty. It's time for Internet users to make some statements of their own.

The FCC is calling for public input — let's make sure they get it. To help make that happen, we're creating an easy tool to help the public speak out on May 15 and for the next 30-60 days while the FCC collects public comments on its proposed rules.

How does FCC rulemaking work?

When the FCC makes new rules, the agency goes through a series of steps to craft policies that are in the best interest of the public. Let's break it down:

  1. First, the FCC issues a proposal for what the potential rules might looks like. That proposal is called a "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" (NPRM).
  2. Almost immediately after the NPRM is released, the FCC opens a window to solicit public comment on how the proposal will effect Americans.
  3. This is where you come in. The FCC wants to hear from you. On May 15th, EFF will launch our public comment tool to help you submit your thoughts directly to the FCC.

These comments are a matter of public record. That means that once you submit a comment, it lands on the FCC's public docket, and anyone can see it.

The FCC is required to respond to the public comments. And sometimes after a public comment window, the FCC will still have more questions. When this happens, the agency opens a "Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking" and another subsequent public comment window to solicit answers to their questions. It won't be until after this long process that we see what the FCC's new rules look like.

The whole rulemaking process can up to a year, so we need to be in this for the long haul. Be prepared to comment and call Congress as the issue progresses.

Raise your voice!

Although the public comment window is the official way to participate in the FCC rulemaking process, it's certainly not the only way to get involved.

On May 15, organisations across the US are staging a massive protest outside of the FCC building in Washington,DC. If you're in the Washington DC area this Thursday, you can join the protest in person at 9am EST. It will be a huge event and some activists have already been camping outside the FCC for the past few days to ensure that the agency gets the message loud and clear: ISPs should never be allowed to pick winners and losers online.

Ultimately, the FCC receives its marching orders from Congress. And on May 20, Chairman Wheeler is scheduled to testify to the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology. Congress is planning to quiz Wheeler about what's going on at the FCC, and you can bet that net neutrality will make up the bulk of the conversation.

We need to be sure to on call Congress to set the FCC straight. More on that soon. In the meantime, get ready for May 15, and tell your friends. We'll only have a month or two to make sure that the FCC knows once and for all: It's our internet, and we're going to fight to protect it.

This post first appeared on Electronic Frontier Foundation and is republished here with kind permission. Image via Getty.

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