A landmark vote Thursday morning by the Federal Communications Commission ruled in favor of upholding net neutrality. In other words, Internet providers will not be permitted to slow, block or prioritize online traffic in exchange for fees. And they are not too happy about this.
“The action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one, whether government or corporate, should control free and open access to the internet,” FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said regarding the decision, which will, for the first time, apply net neutrality protections to mobile Internet service.
It’s been a long, difficult road to get here. And the fight’s not over yet.
Revving Up The Public Outcry
Net neutrality is a critical issue with an awful name, yet it still managed to gin up an unusual groundswell of support.
Net-neutrality concerns have been around for years, but public awareness didn’t burgeon until last year, partly due to advocate campaigns breaking the matter down to Internet “fast lanes” and “slow lanes.” Then high-profile figures like President Obama and John Oliver publicly took up the cause, aiming a spotlight on the issue and, in Oliver’s case, making fun of detractors.
The POTUS urged the FCC to invoke Title II as a legal basis to protect net neutrality, essentially turning Internet Service Providers (ISPs)—both wired broadband and mobile cellular operators—into common carriers akin to public utilities. Many of those service providers have predictably railed against it.
Verizon, AT&T and Comcast have been the most vocal, claiming that they must manage traffic to ensure good experiences for their subscribers. Naturally, companies such as Google, Apple and Netflix, which send media flowing through those Internet pipes, publicly support net neutrality. Sprint, by contrast, merely seems to shrug its shoulders.
The FCC asked the public to comment on its Title II proposal last summer, and as many as four million people weighed in, with the majority showing support. Now, with today’s vote settled, ISPs will be classified as Title II utilities under the commission’s authority.
Going To The Mattresses
Verizon has some experience under its belt; the carrier successfully sued the FCC three years ago, calling the commission’s previous governance of ISPs unconstitutional. Last year, the courts followed up by ruling that the FCC overstepped its bounds when it moved to protect net neutrality under a different legal authority.
The matter appeared nearly dead then, but now appears to have gotten new life. Title II authority is generally considered a much more solid basis for net-neutrality regulation than the FCC’s previous legal maneuvers.
Still, we don’t know for sure until the courts have their say. Stay tuned.
Photo by tlsmith1000