FCC reclassifies broadband as a telecommunications service, subjects ISPs to certain common carrier provisions
Last Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission successfully passed a number of net neutrality measures that will see broadband reclassified as a utility under the 1996 Telecommunications Act. As expected, the 3-2 vote followed party lines, with Democratic commissioners backing Chairman Tom Wheeler and Republicans voting against the proposal.
The decision brings with it a number of measures to prevent internet service providers and mobile carriers from blocking / throttling content, creating fast lanes or offering paid prioritization services. Powerful and polemic, it also involves reclassifying fixed and mobile broadband as a telecommunications service under Title II. This means that internet service providers will be subject to certain common carrier obligations – much stricter than the previous regulatory framework.
A historic vote for net neutrality, but what lies in store?
This vote is a milestone for net neutrality. In the past year, the subject has risen to the forefront to become an industry, political – and household – debate. 4 million people wrote to the FCC to weigh in on the issue, and tech leaders, legal scholars, financiers, ordinary citizens and even President Obama have all offered their views.
Looking forward, we have yet to see how these rules will actually be spelled out. In a post on the FCC’s blog, Chairman Wheeler commits to modernizing Title II to “encourage investment and competition” and to maintaining a degree of flexibility.
Although the FCC will be able to wield greater power over them, ISPs will be allowed to test new services and business models without necessarily needing prior approval. The provisions do not explicitly prohibit zero-rating, a popular practice with mobile operators, nor do they provide for rate regulation or last-mile unbundling, leaving ISPs an incentive to continue innovating and investing in their networks.
Compliance will be assessed on a case-by-case basis using criteria such as consumer protection, innovation and effect on competition.
A big step towards a free and open internet
Backlash is of course expected. Congressional action and lawsuits challenging the FCC will surely make news in the coming weeks and months. Nevertheless, this vote promises to usher in sweeping changes to the regulatory landscape.
StreamRoot applauds this decision as a means to keep the internet free and open, and is happy to see that net neutrality has garnered such attention from industry professionals and citizens alike. We hope that the new rules will succeed in striking a balance between effective oversight, consumer welfare and healthy competition among large and small players in online ecosystem.
For more information:
– FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Op-Ed on the Wired
– Digital Trends’ timeline of the net neutrality debate
– Gigaom’s look at how experts viewed the February 26 vote