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FCC Approves New Net Neutrality Rules

(AccessNow.org)

(AccessNow.org)

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to approve robust new net neutrality rules that will classify Internet service providers as public utilities, ensuring they treat all legal content equally. Net neutrality advocates hailed what they are calling a landmark decision that will prevent powerful cable and telecommunications corporations from controlling which content Internet users see.

The Washington Post reports the FCC voted 3-2 along partisan lines in favor of the new rules, which are aimed at thwarting high-speed Internet providers like Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner from selling faster traffic speeds to the highest bidder, a practice known as paid prioritization. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler asserted the new rules were necessary in order to preserve a “fast, fair and open Internet.”

“The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules,” Wheeler said to applause from the standing room-only audience in attendance to witness the historic announcement. “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.” Wheeler added that under new rules, Internet service providers must act in the “public interest.”

Wheeler, along with Democratic commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel, voted for the move. Republican commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly cast dissenting votes.

Implementing net neutrality at a time when streaming technology is transforming the Internet is a challenging proposition. Wheeler is attempting to balance the interests of content streamers like Netflix, which backs neutrality, and powerful corporations opposing the new rules.

Ultimately, the new rules will reclassify Internet service providers, including wireless data providers, as public utilities, like phone companies, folding them into a regulatory framework designed to ensure fair access to services. Paid prioritization, the so-called “Internet fast lanes,” will be prohibited, although USA Today reports there will be some exceptions, including remote heart monitoring.

Net neutrality proponents applauded the FCC vote.

“Team Internet spoke, and the FCC listened. Net neutrality is now the law of the land,” tweeted digital rights advocates Electronic Frontier Foundation.

“The net neutrality debate is about who picks winners and losers online: Internet service providers or consumers. Today, the FCC settled it: Consumers win,” Netflix said in a statement. “Today’s order is a meaningful step towards ensuring ISPs cannot shift bad conduct upstream to where they interconnect with content providers like Netflix. Net neutrality rules are only as strong as their weakest link, and it’s incumbent on the FCC to ensure these interconnection points aren’’t used to end-run the principles of an open Internet.”

President Barack Obama, who has promised to safeguard net neutrality ever since he was a candidate in 2007, issued a statement thanking net neutrality advocates.

“The FCC just voted in favor of a strong net neutrality rule to keep the Internet open and free,” the statement read. “That happened because millions of Americans across the country didn’t just care about this issue: You stood up and made your voices heard, whether by adding your names to petitions, submitting public comments, or talking with the people you know about why this matters.”

Cable and telecommunications corporations, as well as Republican lawmakers, blasted the move, calling it government overreach and an infringement on free enterprise.

Verizon, which may join AT&T in mounting a legal challenge to the rules change, issued a statement in Morse code titled “FCC’s ‘Throwback Thursday’ Move Imposes 1930s Rules on the Internet.” The statement, translated, slammed the FCC for changing “the way the commercial Internet has operated since its creation.”

“The uncertainty created by the FCC’s plan will jeopardize the fast pace of private sector investment and improvements,” said Scott Belcher, CEO of the Telecommunications Industry Association.

“The FCC has taken the overwhelming support for an open Internet and pried open the door to heavy-handed government regulation in a space celebrated for its free enterprise,” said Michael Powell, CEO of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association and a former FCC chairman.

“The Obama administration needs to get beyond its 1930s rotary telephone mindset and embrace the future,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on the Senate floor. “That means encouraging innovation, not suffocating it under the weight of an outdated bureaucracy and poorly named regulations like this one.”

Some GOP lawmakers have vowed to fight the rule change, and the Wall Street Journal reports Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, wrote to Wheeler demanding all documents and communications between the FCC and the White House or other executive branch agencies in a bid to determine if the Obama administration improperly influenced the regulatory agency.

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