The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to implement new net neutrality rules designed to make sure Internet service providers treat all legal content equally.
The historic vote on the proposal, pitched by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, elicited hearty cheers from a wide array of technology companies and consumer groups while setting the table for lawsuits from Internet service providers. The controversial proceedings that led up to the vote generated heated lobbying in Washington and public clamor on social media, all in efforts to steer the future direction of the rules that guide Internet traffic.
“The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules,” said Wheeler to applause from the standing room-only crowd gathered before the FCC panel.
“So today after a decade of debate in an open, robust year-long process, we finally have legally sustainable rules to ensure that the Internet stays fast, fair and open,” he said.
Net neutrality, also called open Internet, is a principle that Internet networks are equally available to all types of legal content generators. Internet service providers (ISPs), mostly large cable or telephone companies, would be prohibited from discriminating against content by blocking or slowing transmission speeds and seeking payments in exchange for faster lanes of their Internet networks, a practice called “paid prioritization.”
Implementing the principle at a time when Internet streaming technology is changing so rapidly proved challenging to Wheeler as he sought to balance the varying interests of influential content streamers, like Netflix, and large ISPs that have spent millions to fight the effort. The FCC was besieged with passionate comments from both sides of the debate, receiving about 4 million comments, a record. In the end, Wheeler, with a nudge from President Obama, delivered on his proposals, though not without a fight from his colleagues and Republican lawmakers who wanted to delay the vote.
Wheeler’s proposal reclassifies ISPs, including wireless data providers, as public utilities, like phone companies, that are subject to a set of regulations that ensure all consumers get fair access to their services. ISPs would be banned from paid prioritization deals, though they can set aside fast lanes for some exceptions, including public services, like remote heart monitoring.
The authority for the new rules comes from Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. The new rules also call for the regulators to “forbear” — or refrain — from some provisions of Title II, including pricing regulation and other parts that are less relevant to broadband services.
The FCC said the regulations will be posted online as quickly as possible and subsequently published in the Federal Register. They become effective 60 days after publication.
Pro-business advocates and ISPs, including wireless carriers, have denounced Wheeler’s approach. The proposal’s insistence on laying out the do’s and don’ts of operating Internet networks would inhibit ISPs from introducing new services — say, connected refrigerators and smartphone-controlled windows and doors — and limit innovations in improving their networks, they say.
“What doesn’t make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of eighty years ago, live under it,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president-external and legislative affairs, in a statement.
Read more at USA.