The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules enshrining net neutrality, in a move that has been broadly welcomed by the internet community. US telecoms providers are less impressed, however.
The Open Internet Order was passed by three votes to two and means that the internet is classed as a telecoms service under Title II of the US Communications Act.
This key rule means that there are certain requirements placed on internet access that must be adhered to:
- Ban Paid Prioritisation: 'Fast lanes' will not divide the internet into 'haves' and 'have-nots'.
- Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for - unfettered access to any lawful content on the internet.
- Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler explained that the vote puts in place “strong, sustainable rules” allowing an open internet to thrive.
“America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open - principles shared by the overwhelming majority of the nearly four million commenters who participated in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding,” he said.
US president Barack Obama, who asked the FCC to reclassify broadband access to ensure net neutrality, welcomed the decision as a vital move to protect the internet, and thanked all those who wrote to the FCC urging them to back net neutrality.
“Today's FCC decision will protect innovation and create a level playing field for the next generation of entrepreneurs,” he said.
Barbara van Schewick, professor of law at Stanford Law School, said that the decision is one of the “greatest public interest victories in US history” and “protects the internet version of the American dream”.
"The FCC's strong rules banning blocking, throttling and paid prioritisation will help protect innovation, economic growth and democratic discourse in America," she wrote in a blog post.
“They ensure that every American, no matter the size of their wallets or the colour of their skin, has an equal chance to innovate and reach people online."
She added that the ruling showed the power of protest after millions of citizens, businesses and public interest groups lobbied the FCC to endorse net neutrality, something that will benefit the US for years to come, according to van Schewick.
However, many were displeased by the ruling. Verizon criticised the government for using a law passed in 1934 to shape how services are used in 2015.
Michael Glover, Verizon's senior vice president for public policy and government affairs, said that history will judge the FCC’s decision as “misguided” and “wholly unnecessary”.
“The FCC had targeted tools available to preserve an open internet, but instead chose to use this order as an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended negative consequences for consumers and various parts of the internet ecosystem for years to come," he added.
Scott Belcher, chief executive of the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), said that the decision was unnecessary and will harm consumers and the economy by creating uncertainty for firms and holding back investment.
“Government micromanagement of the marketplace has failed repeatedly, and it won't work now. The best way to deliver more options for consumers and prevent 'slow lanes' is to encourage private sector infrastructure investment," he said.
Belcher added that he hopes the proposals passed by the FCC will be voted down in Congress.
However, van Schewick thinks it likely that the FCC's rules will be upheld in court.
"The agency's decision to reclassify internet service as a common carrier under Title II of the Communications Act puts the rules on a solid legal foundation," she said.
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