The Internet is Now a Public Utility: FCC Approves Net Neutrality Rules in 3-2 Vote

by Matt Klassen on February 27, 2015

After years of legal wrangling and bureaucratic bungling the fight for Net Neutrality hit an important milestone this week, the Internet will finally be regulated as a public utility. In a close but never really disputed 3-2 vote, the Federal Communications Commission approved the utility-style rules to govern the Web, adopting the Net Neutrality standards based on a redefinition of broadband service that now allows the government to regulate Internet infrastructure as it would any other public service.

The decision came after months of public feedback and intense lobbying by both sides of this debate, with the two dissenting members of the FCC going public with their concerns over this sort of regulation of the Web. In fact, the Republican rhetoric against Net Neutrality pulled out all the stops, likening this process to the encroachment of socialism and calling it “Obamacare for the Internet.”

Not that the fight for an Open Internet is over though, as this decision will now be subject to a torrent of appeals that will most certainly follow, but given how far this Net Neutrality saga has gone to get to this point there is certainly warrant for optimism, a renewed hope that for once the FCC has done things right to establish and preserve an Open Internet for all.

While Republican opposition has tried to deliver its best fear-mongering rhetoric, classifying this entire process as the government’s “secret plan to regulate the Internet,” the fact of the matter is that the FCC has only really imposed the regulations on Web service and network management that it had set out to do from the beginning.

As we hoped, the new Net Neutrality standards prohibit service providers from arbitrarily throttling, blocking, or otherwise slowing traffic on wired and wireless networks, the latter being a recent, but necessary, addition to the scope of the regulation. Further, the FCC’s new rules will ban so-called fast and slow lanes, that is, paid prioritization whereby providers could charge content providers like Netflix additional fees to access more of the network to reach customers more quickly.

Of course we’ve seen the FCC attempt to push such rules through before, but this time, as I’ve said before, things will be different, as following its last crushing defeat the FCC has taken to heart the recommendations of the court, reclassifying the Internet as a public utility, thus allowing the government to impose regulations under Title II of the Communications Act. It is this key redefinition that will hopefully provide the necessary foundation for Net Neutrality to succeed.

Simply put, Open Internet rules are now legally enforceable because the Internet no longer belongs to the service providers.

Opposition, as expected, has framed this entire process as the death of the Internet as we know it (perhaps that’s not a bad thing, for the Internet we know is woefully inadequate). Service providers, networks, and carriers alike have decried the move, arguing that regulation will hamper investment and curb innovation.

“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,” former FCC chairman and current lobbyist for the cable industry, Michael Powell said in a statement. “The Commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, free-wheeling and innovative platform in history.”

Looking at other countries where Net Neutrality style legislation is already in place, however, and such concerns certainly ring hollow. Net Neutrality will only curb the unethical practices of delivering broadband service, the sort of gouging that consumers have had to entire for decades now. It’s about time someone held these Internet gatekeepers accountable, letting them know they no longer control the Web.

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Written by: Matt Klassen. Follow by: RSS, Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube.

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