Vote ensures internet remains open, equally accessible through net neutrality policy

net-neutralityIn a momentous decision for the future of the open internet, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on February 26 approved net neutrality regulations to oversee online traffic and ensure internet service providers treat all legally-flowing content equally.

The 3-2 party-line vote prevents service providers from, for instance, charging websites for faster data speeds to customers. The vote regulates internet service providers in the same manner as public utilities, with a stricter set of regulations to make sure all customers receive equal service.

“There are three simple keys to our broadband future,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement. “Broadband networks must be fast. Broadband networks must be fair. Broadband networks must be open.”

The vote gives students the opportunity for “…enrolling in courses online to improve your educational, professional or entrepreneurial potential without worrying whether the university paid for a fast lane to ensure that the lecture won’t buffer for hours because the quality has been degraded or throttled,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

(Next page: Industry and education’s reactions)

The new regulations address three practices:

  • No blocking: Broadband providers are not allowed to block access to legal content, applications, or services
  • No throttling: Broadband providers “may not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices”
  • No paid prioritization: Broadband providers are prevented from favoring certain internet traffic over other equally legal traffic in exchange for consideration

“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. And we do not need blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization schemes that undermine the internet as we know it,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said.

The net neutrality debate garnered passionate responses both against the proposal and in support of it, with more than 4 million comments submitted to the FCC.

“America’s libraries collect, create and disseminate essential information to the public over the internet, and ensure our users are able to access the internet and create and distribute their own digital content and applications. Network neutrality is essential to meeting our mission in serving America’s communities,” said ALA President Courtney Young. “Today’s FCC vote in favor of strong, enforceable net neutrality rules is a win for students, creators, researchers and learners of all ages.”

“Today’s FCC vote on net neutrality is a welcome step in our effort to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules that apply to both mobile and fixed broadband — banning paid prioritization, blocking, and discrimination online,” said Internet Association President and CEO Michael Beckerman in a statement supporting the vote.

“We have never argued there should be no regulation in this area, simply that there should be smart regulation,” said Jim Cicconi, AT&T’s senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs, in a statement criticizing 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.”

“With years of uncertainty and unintended consequences ahead of us, it falls to Congress to step in,” said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, in a statement. “Working together, our legislative leaders can protect an open internet, while ensuring that it remains free for innovation without government permission and that it continues to create strong incentives to deploying ever-faster broadband to every American. The FCC has taken us in a distressing direction. We must now look to other branches of government for a more balanced resolution.”

Chairman Wheeler and Commissioners Clyburn and Rosenworcel voted for net neutrality, with Republican Commissioners Michael O’Rielly and Ajit Pai voting against the proposal.