The new rules the FCC passed today that will allow it to regulate broadband as a utility are – in the eyes of some – a victory for net neutrality and a “free Internet.” For others, the new rules are a misguided anathema that will bring broadband, especially fiber, expansion to a halt.
The only certainty? They’ll be challenged in court.
In an unsurprising 3-2 vote along party lines (the two Republican appointees voted against the change), the FCC reclassified broadband as a telecommunications service. That alone likely will bring more aggressive – to some onerous – regulations.
Chief among them, of course, is the prohibition against ISPs offering “fast lanes” for content owners – paid prioritization – that guarantees a more TV-like experience for consumers by delivering content more smoothly.
The rules also ban ISPs from blocking or slowing down content deliberately, so-called throttling, for users who consume a great deal of bandwidth.
The decision also means the FCC will be regulating interconnection deals that allow content companies like Netflix to connect to broadband provider’s networks for a fee. Those deals won’t be blocked, the FCC said, but they will be examined.
Privacy, as well as access for the disabled, and for people in remote areas also are addressed.
The regulation is not just targeted at fixed broadband providers; the oversight will be applied to mobile providers, too.
The FCC said it wouldn’t, at least initially, apply price controls or other sections of the new regulations.
ISPs – specifically cable companies and telcos – already have made it clear they intend to challenge the Commission’s decision in court.
A statement from Verizon – which challenged and won a 2011 battle with the FCC over the “Open Internet Rule” – said the decision “by the FCC to encumber broadband Internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors. History will judge today’s actions as misguided.”
Reactions to the Net Neutrality decision was mixed.
Here’s what FCC members had to say:
FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel: The U.S. “Internet economy is the envy of the world. We invented it. The app economy began right here on our shores. Four million Americans wrote to this agency…Whatever our disagreements are on net neutrality, I hope we agree that this is democracy in action and something we can all support.”
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai: “The plan is not a solution to a problem…We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason only: President Obama told us to do so.”
FCC Commissioner Michael O’Reilly: “I see no need for net neutrality rules. I am far more troubled the commission is charting for Title II.” He also called the vote a “monumental and unlawful power grab.”
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler: “No one, whether government or corporate, should control free and open access to the Internet. The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules. This plan is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech.”
AT&T, in a statement, said that “Instead of a clear set of rules moving forward, with a broad set of agreement behind them, we once again face the uncertainty of litigation, and the very real potential of having to start over – again – in the future… This may suit partisans who lust for issues of political division, but it isn’t healthy for the Internet ecosystem, for the economy, or for our political system. And, followed to its logical conclusion, this will do long-term damage to the FCC as well.”
Sen. Al Franken (D-NY): This is an enormous victory. This is the culmination of years of hard work by countless Americans who believe — just as I do — that the Internet should remain the free and open platform that it’s always been. Net neutrality is important for consumers, for small businesses and startups trying to compete with the big guys, and ultimately, for the innovation that has helped drive our economy for the past several decades.”
Stanford University law Professor Barbara van Schewick: “The agency’s decision to reclassify Internet service as a common carrier under Title II … puts the rules on a solid legal foundation.”
Stay tuned; this one is far from over.
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