The Federal Communications Commission voted today, 3 to 2, to adopt “net neutrality” rules aimed at forcing internet providers to treat all data equally. The order establishes three basic rules for broadband—broadband providers may not block legal content, throttle or degrade lawful internet traffic or accept money to prioritize some traffic over others.
This is not the first FCC attempt to update internet rules. The commission actually voted for an open internet in 2010, when it released its Open Internet Order establishing “high-level rules requiring transparency and prohibiting blocking and unreasonable discrimination to protect Internet openness.” But the order was blocked in federal court by lawsuits from telecommunications providers.
Last year, the FCC responded by asking for public comment prior to a new rulemaking session. The commission received a record 3.7 million comments on net neutrality, prompted in part by a segment on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver. Internet freedom advocacy groups have been pushing for stronger net neutrality provisions for years, but with the popularity of streaming and mobile internet use growing by the day, net neutrality became a hot-button issue supported by tech companies and violently opposed by telecoms.
The hearing featured pleas from tech innovators like Etsy’s CEO Chad Dickerson and Veena Sud, whose show The Killing moved to Netflix after being cancelled by AMC. The vote represented a “critical moment for the future of the internet,” said Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, who spoke to the commission via satellite.
“No one, whether government or corporate should control free, open access to the internet,” said FCC chairman Tom Wheeler. His colleague, commissioner Mignon Clyburn, noted that, though the debate about net neutrality was rocky, it was necessary. She called the controversy “civic, but not always so civil, discourse.” But among the commissioners support for net neutrality was not unanimous. Commissioner Ajit Pai called the FCC’s actions “turning its back on internet freedom,” warning that intrusive regulation will result in higher prices, less innovation and onerous regulation.
Though today’s ruling is expected to prompt new lawsuits and challenges, some analysts believe it will survive in court. And reclassifying broadband as telecommunication wasn’t the only issue of the day. The FCC also ruled to override state laws blocking municipalities from building broadband networks in a move that could help local ISPs compete with big telecommunications companies.