FCC approves strong net neutrality rules

Net neutrality is again the law of the land, and this time it’s stronger than ever.

As expected, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday approved new rules that would bar Internet service providers from blocking, throttling or prioritizing access to particular sites or services. The new rules resemble ones that the agency previously enacted but that had twice been thrown out by a federal court. Unlike those previous efforts to guarantee net neutrality, the new rules are grounded in the commission’s authority under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934, which gives the agency vast powers to regulate so-called common carriers such as telephone and telegraph operators.

“This is our third bite at the apple, and we must get it right,” Commissioner Mignon Clyburn said prior to the vote on the rules.

Although the concept of net neutrality has been backed by Republicans and Democrats, the new rules were highly contentious, a fact that was reflected in the vote on them. They were approved three-to-two, with the commission’s Democrats voting in favor of them and its Republicans opposing them.

Echoing concerns raised by broadband providers and anti-regulatory groups, the commissioners charged that the new rules were unnecessary, would lead to higher prices and slower access speeds and represented a government effort to take over the Internet.

“The Internet is not broken,” said Commissioner Ajit Pai. “There’s no problem here for government to solve.”

Following FCC procedure, the commission did not release a copy of the final rules prior to Thursday’s vote. Chairman Tom Wheeler outlined the basic provisions earlier this month, but there has been some concern, even among net neutrality supporters, about how the final rules will be worded.

Some recent reports suggested that the new rules would leave out or weaken a provision that would give the FCC oversight authority over interconnection agreements. These are the deals between broadband providers and Internet companies or content distributors governing the way their networks connect with one another. Such deals drew widespread attention early last year after Netflix charged that Comcast and other service providers were slowing its video streams in an effort to force it to pay the providers for a faster connection.

But Clyburn and Wheeler said at the meeting that the new rules would indeed cover interconnection agreements.

Most broadband providers have been operating without being constrained by net neutrality rules since early last year when the D.C. Circuit Court overturned the FCC’s previous regulations. The court’s ruling was based on the fact that the FCC had deregulated the Internet service provider industry in the early 2000s, taking such companies out from under common-carrier regulations. The court ruled that the agency couldn’t impose net neutrality on such companies, because it is a common-carrier rule.

The decision basically gave the FCC three choices: abandon the idea of enforcing net neutrality at all, reclassify the broadband providers as common carriers or make the net neutrality rules less like common carrier regulations. The court said the way to that latter course would be to give providers the ability to create so-called fast lanes on the Internet by allowing them to sell priority access to particular sites or services.

Wheeler and the FCC decided at first to try for that last option, to attempt to reinstate net neutrality rules, but to allow Internet fast lanes. In response, the FCC received more than 4 million comments, the vast majority of which were in opposition to the plan and in favor of the agency reclassifying broadband as a common carrier service. In November, President Obama stepped into the fray, urging the agency to go the Title II route. Obama’s intervention reportedly pressured the FCC to re-write its rules and take the approach it adopted Thursday.

Photo: File photo of the FCC, courtesy of the commission.


Tags: , , , , ,


Share this Post

  • Pete

    Welcome to ObamaNet!

  • K. E.

    Very curious to hear what Silicon Valley thinks of government interference in their livelihood. Gov’t regs have never made anything cheaper or better…

  • johnnybopbop2

    Obama: “Next i will decide which car you shall buy”

    • Larry J

      The Federal Government is already paying people $7,500 to buy the cars Obama wants them to buy.

  • Alan

    Finally! Good job.

    • Jerry Bennett

      How could support more politics?

  • Saw this on Twitter today: “Yeah. I love the internet. But you know, I really wish it was run more like the electric company. #NetNeutrality” We’ll see how that works out.

  • Mogumbo Gono

    The DMV comes to the internet…