The Federal Communications Commission has voted to reclassify broadband service as a utility, granting net neutrality advocates a victory after months and years of fighting for the policy. The proposal by Chair Tom Wheeler was approved on a party-line vote, 3-2. Under net neutrality, Internet providers must enable access to all content despite the content’s source. For example, if a large company wanted to slow internet speeds on a competitors website in order to decrease business for the site, they would not be allowed to under net neutrality laws. Today’s action allows the FCC to work to end “paid prioritization” which allows telecom companies to give different speeds to certain websites.
“No one … should control free and open access to the Internet, it’s the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules.” said Tom Wheeler, Chair of the FCC. While the decision was reached today, the laws most likely will not take effect until the summer.
Today’s proposal reclassifies broadband service under Title II of the Communications Act. The FCC had previously used a different legal method to enforce net neutrality, however that method was found to be unconstitutional by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in 2014. Those rules were weaker than today’s proposal, however that short-term loss for net neutrality advocates has turned into a long-term victory. Legal analysts say that Title II reclassification allows the FCC to protect net neutrality laws in the future from lawsuits on more solid legal ground.
“It’s simply too important to to be left without rules or a referee on the field,” said Wheeler “The Internet has replaced the function of the telephone and the post office.”
“This order imposes intrusive government regulations for a problem that doesn’t exist … using the legal authority that the FCC doesn’t have, consumers should expect their bills to go up and they should expect broadband speeds to slow down going forward,” said FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who voted against the rules. Pai and Republicans have opposed the net neutrality proposal, arguing that it will stifle innovation and investment.
“[T]he Commission should use its Title II authority to engage in light-touch regulation, taking great care to adhere to clear, targeted, and transparent rules,” The Electronic Frontier Foundation wrote in a letter to the FCC. “A ‘general conduct rule,’ applied on a case-by-case basis with the only touchstone being whether a given practice ‘harms’ consumers or edge providers, may lead to years of expensive litigation to determine the meaning of ‘harm’ (for those who can afford to engage in it).”
AT&T has indicated that they will sue the FCC against these new laws.