The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted on Thursday to approve very strong net neutrality rules in a landmark decision. The decision is particularly important because it comes as a final determination by the commission after month of powerful campaigning by opposition forces including big money Telecom and Cable interests along with wide support by Republican leaders in both houses of the Republican controlled Congress.
Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn (both Democrats) joined Chairman Tom Wheeler to approve the new rules, which include reclassification of all US consumer-broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act. “The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules,” Wheeler said prior to the vote. Clyburn pointed out that “absent the rules we adopt today” ISPs would be “free to block, throttle, favor or discriminate … for any user, for any reason, or for no reason at all.”
The reclassification is very important, as the FCC intends to use authority under Title II to ban all forms of “paid prioritization” that carriers had hoped to use as a way to generate additional revenue for premium data fast-lane access. Another important aspect of the ruling is the clear declaration that these new rules apply to mobile access as well.
The FCC will begin enforcing these Internet rules via “investigation and processing of formal and informal complaints”, and for the first time ever, the FCC will now have the internal authority to address specific complaints at interconnection points, between ISPs and Internet users on an individual basis.
The two Republican commissioners on the FCC were in stark opposition to the rest of the commission and the vast majority of Internet users. Republican Commissioner Ajit Pai called the decision an “about-face” and said “We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason only: President Obama told us to do so.”
According to the Huffington Post, reporters and others gathered in an FCC viewing room “gasped and burst into laughter upon hearing Pai’s remark.” President Obama did state his emphatic belief that Title II reclassification was a crucial step forward last November, and millions of comments from the general public in support of net neutrality gave the strong impression of widespread public support.
Many Tech Industry giants including Tumblr, Google, Facebook and others openly advocated for net neutrality protection. The big losers were bandwidth carriers like Verizon and Comcast. Verizon previously sued the FCC in 2011 over rules changes and there is a new specter of legal wrangling with this FCC decision likely headed to court. Verizon issued a press release issued saying the decision is “a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors” and went on to claim that the FCC “chose to use this order as an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended negative consequences for consumers and various parts of the Internet ecosystem for years to come.”
However, Ms. Barbara van Schewick, a Stanford University law professor and net neutrality expert, was optimistic that the new FCC rules would eventually prevail in court, if they were challenged. “The agency’s decision to reclassify Internet service as a common carrier under Title II … puts the rules on a solid legal foundation,” she said in a statement.
While the future is always uncertain, at least for now, you can take comfort in the fact that data will continue to pass through all internet pipes in a way that is completely agnostic as to the identity of the sender or receiver, and as to the character of the content being communicated – just the way the Internet has already been working so successfully since its earliest inception