The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday in favor of net neutrality legislation that has the potential to give the government more power, and the private sector less, over the operation of broadband service in the U.S.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the measure, the Open Internet Order which passed with a vote of three to two, a step toward allowing “free, open access to the Internet” without undue hindrance by governments or corporations. Although many advocates have been arguing for the passage of such legislation for years, the two dissenting votes from Republican FCC commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajut Pai mark clearly the other side of the debate.
Republicans as a unified party, the L.A. Times notes, have argued that the Open Internet Order is a “secret plan to regulate the Internet,” and O’Rielly has been vocal about the fact that this bill was not made public before the vote this week. O’Reilly has pushed for public release, but that was not granted. It could be several weeks before the full text is made available.
What the public does know about the measure is that it will reclassify Internet service providers as public utility carriers as defined within Title II of the Telecommunications Act which should keep all Internet traffic moving without preference for one end user or another.
Wheeler again stepped up to the plate when he said that the law should hold up in court against lawsuits that are sure to come against the FCC with this change in regulation. According to analysis at Ars Technica, he believes that the arrangement under Title II law will allow the FCC to combat discrimination that he said may be labeled as “unreasonable” or “unjust.” The regulation imposes the rules that disallow blocking of content, throttling of the speed of content, or the creation of “fast lanes” that would prioritize specific Internet traffic. Title II would also allow consumer complaints to be taken into consideration that may address the unfair pricing of Internet service from providers such as Comcast, AT&T, or Verizon.
It unclear how exactly the new rules will affect the structure of the existing backbone of the Internet which is supplemented by “peering” agreements between Internet service providers and companies such as Google. Those types of agreements leverage a special direct lane between those entities to get content, for instance from YouTube, to consumers faster than if that content traveled through non-preferential channels.
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