3 – 2 decision important for all Internet users
Thursday was an important day for all US Internet users, with the Federal Communications Commission approving 3 to 2 additional "net neutrality" regulations in what has been characterised as a "landmark decision."
The new rules prohibit Internet service providers from discriminating against legal content flowing through their wired or wireless networks, such as by charging websites for faster delivery of video and other data to consumers.
The decision puts broadband providers in the same legal category as more highly regulated conventional telephone companies, overseen by a "…modernised, light-touch regulatory approach."
"The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It's simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field," an FCC spokesman said Thursday.
"The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules."
FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel, who voted for the regulations, said: "We cannot have a two-tiered Internet with fast lanes that speed the traffic of the privileged and leave the rest of us lagging behind. We cannot have gatekeepers who tell us what we can and cannot do and where we can and cannot go online.
"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."
The FCC vote caps years of effort by Internet giants such as Amazon.com Inc. and Google Inc., public interest groups, digital rights advocates and key, mainly Democrat, politicians to enact rules designed to protect consumers and mitigate the power of ISPs.
Not everyone sees the regulations as a good thing; leading Republicans, free-market advocates and telecommunications companies, including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., have called the rules a solution in search of a problem that risks damaging the Internet economy.
They claim that the Internet has thrived outside of strict government oversight, and they warned that burdensome regulations could hinder online innovation and investment in expanded broadband networks.
Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president-external and legislative affairs, in a statement after the vote:
"What doesn't make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren, with technologies and options undreamed of eighty years ago, live under it."
Net neutrality, also called open Internet, is a principle that Internet networks are equally available to all types of legal content generators. Internet service providers (ISPs), mostly large cable or telephone companies, would be prohibited from discriminating against content by blocking or slowing transmission speeds and seeking payments in exchange for faster lanes of their Internet networks, a practice called "paid prioritisation."
The FCC decision reclassifies ISPs, including wireless data providers, as public utilities, like phone companies, that are subject to a set of regulations that ensure all consumers get fair access to their services. ISPs would be banned from paid prioritisation deals, though they can set aside fast lanes for some exceptions, including public services, like remote heart monitoring.
The FCC was besieged with passionate comments from both sides of the debate, receiving about 4 million comments, a record. Millions of dollars have been spent on lobbying, particularly by major telecommunications companies fighting the concept.
The FCC said the regulations will be posted online as quickly as possible and subsequently published in the Federal Register. They become effective 60 days after publication.
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