March 1st, 2015
On Thursday, the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) successfully voted on and passed Chairman Tom Wheelerâ€™s proposed net neutrality plan, which reclassified broadband Internet connections under Title II of the Communications Act. You can read about Wheelerâ€™s plan in detail here, but long story short, the measure classified large ISPs as â€œcommon carriersâ€ and essentially opened up the regulation of the internet as a public utility.
With a 3-2 vote along party lines, the FCC commissioners endorsed the plan and what is generally referred to as â€œnet neutralityâ€
â€“the idea that Internet service providers should treat all traffic the same and refrain from charging one firm more than another to use their networks.
A national debate on the topic was ignited last year when Neftlix accused both Comcast and Verizon of slowing down its video streaming service. The companies took up legal arms, Netflix eventually ponied up cash, and a subsequent public discussion over how the Internet would be regulated began.
The Obama administration came out in strong support of a net neutrality measure in 2014, citing the benefit to innovation and freedom of information. Detractorsâ€”notables such as Republican Senator Ted Cruz and Tech Billionaire Mark Cubanâ€”came out in opposition to government intervention, claiming any regulation would eventually stifle creativity and speeds. Cruz referred to net neutrality as â€œObamacare for the Internetâ€ in a tweet.
Debate over Wheelerâ€™s plan took place over the fall, with the actual measure itself finally coming to a vote on Thursday, which predictably followed partisan expectations amongst the five commissioners (FCC commissioners are appointed, not elected).
The event was not without its lighter moments. The FCC buildingâ€™s on-location Wi-Fi apparently blocked reportersâ€™ mobile devices from uploading pictures (ironic â€” seeing the occasion), and several reporters sarcastically responded by announcing they were using Verizonâ€™s 4G LTE to upload images. Verizon is against the measures (as are most major internet service providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable), and the nationâ€™s largest cellular provider reportedly even â€œtrolledâ€ the FCC event with posts in Morse code, a sign of opposition to government regulations.
The measure passed at 1:00 p.m. Republicans, generally opposed to the vote, have suggested they might use legislation in Congress to reverse the outcome.
While itâ€™s yet to be seen exactly what effect this vote will have on the broadband industry as a whole, or how long the new rules will last, February 26 will no doubt go down as a landmark date in the history of the Internet.
In an interesting local connection, the FCC also approved a measureâ€”due to a petition started by the City of Wilson, N.C. and the Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga, Tenn.â€”that would keep state laws from interfering with municipal broadband networks, letting them compete openly with ISPs. Itâ€™s not clear if cities like Wilson will be able to build its own public broadband, but the FCCâ€™s motion today seems to indicate that this will be the case under the new FCC atmosphere of enforcing net neutrality.
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