Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler makes a statement during the FCC vote on Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015, in Washington, D.C. Photo by Brian Cohn/Zuma Press/TNS.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established a new order on Feb. 26 in a three-to-two vote imposing strict net neutrality guidelines on internet services providers (ISPs). These rules include prohibitions on speed throttling, paid fast lanes and the blocking of websites and services. The order reclassifies ISPs as telecommunications providers under Title II of the Communications Act, providing the FCC with the means to enforce these rules.
The new regulations establish a standard that prohibits ISPs from taking actions that might disadvantage consumers or the websites and services they wish to access. ISPs are, however, allowed to slow service in cases of what the order calls “reasonable network management.”
For the first time, net neutrality rules will fully apply to mobile internet services as well. The order also allows the FCC to investigate agreements such as the one between Comcast and Netflix, which saw the streaming service pay for better access to its own customers.
“The internet must be fast, fair and open,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement given to Wired Magazine. “That is the principle that has enabled the internet to become an unprecedented platform for innovation and human expression.”
The commission also brought to the debate a number of notable net neutrality advocates, including Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson, Veena Sud, an executive producer for “The Killing” who spoke on behalf of Netflix and Tim Berners-Lee, the father of the web. Dickerson implored that the commission protect the internet as “an engine for economic opportunity,” while Sud argued that the open internet allowed for a diverse selection of media not found elsewhere. Berners-Lee simply stated that net neutrality should be added to “a list of basic market conditions that we protect.”
Initially, Wheeler proposed a series of regulations that undermined the basis of net neutrality by allowing paid fast lanes. However, support from President Obama, TV personality John Oliver and popular websites such as Tumblr, Kickstarter and Netflix ignited the national conversation about an open, equal internet. Following overwhelming public support, Wheeler announced the dramatically overhauled plan that was finally pushed through in February.
As the vote shows, the commission isn’t unanimously on board with the new regulations, as Republican commissioners Michael O’Reilly and Ajit Pai both expressed dissent. O’Reilly issued a statement calling the new regulations “an extreme solution to an imaginary problem,” and questioned the FCC’s legal authority to implement the order.