Denned - Fotolia
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted Thursday to reclassify broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act.
In a 3-2 party line vote, the commission approved net neutrality rules to ensure that Internet service providers (ISPs) treat content equally and to preserve an "Open Internet."
"Our challenge is to achieve two equally important goals: ensure incentives for private investment in broadband infrastructure so the U.S. has world-leading networks, and ensure that those networks are fast, fair and open for all Americans," said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler in a statement.
The net neutrality rules, which apply to fixed and mobile broadband, include bans on paid prioritization and any steps taken to throttle Internet traffic. The rules also allow the commission to address practices by ISPs that may be deemed questionable and that increase the transparency requirements of ISPs, including disclosing packet loss as a measure of performance and providing notices of network management practices that can affect service.
One Internet for all applications and products
"We are here to ensure that there is only one Internet where all applications, new products, ideas and points of view have an equal chance of being seen and heard," said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn in a statement.
The FCC said that in order to keep a strong legal foundation for its net neutrality rulemaking, the commission will not enforce 27 provisions of Title II and more than 700 regulations that are not relevant to broadband service or in the public interest, like last-mile unbundling and tariffs. Broadband service will also remain exempt from state and local taxation under the Internet Tax Freedom Act.
Michael E. GloverVerizon Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs
The FCC also addressed concerns that net neutrality rules would stifle competition and investment in broadband networks.
"Investment analysts have concluded that Title II with appropriate forbearance is unlikely to have any negative on the value or future profitability of broadband providers," the FCC said, noting that carriers like Sprint and Frontier have voluntarily adopted Title II regulation and agreed that it will not negatively impact investment.
In a statement, Sprint said it believes "balanced net neutrality rules with a light regulatory touch will benefit consumers, while fostering mobile broadband competition, investment and innovation in the United States."
New regulations 'antiquated,' Verizon charges
Rival carriers such as Verizon and AT&T, however, blasted the FCC's decision.
"What doesn't make sense, and has never made sense, is to take a regulatory framework developed for Ma Bell in the 1930s and make her great grandchildren -- with technologies and options undreamed of 80 years ago -- live under it," said Jim Cicconi, AT&T's senior executive vice president of external and legislative affairs, in a statement.
Verizon Senior Vice President of Public Policy and Government Affairs Michael E. Glover echoed the sentiment.
"Today's decision by the FCC to encumber broadband Internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors," he said. "As a result, it is likely that history will judge today's actions as misguided."
The U.S. Telecom Association, a trade organization for the telecom industry, said in a statement that while it supports an Open Internet, reclassification under Title II is ill-advised.
Netflix, which has squabbled with carriers like Verizon over paid prioritization, said the vote was a victory for consumers.
"Today's order is a meaningful step towards ensuring ISPs cannot shift bad conduct upstream to where they interconnect with content providers like Netflix," the content provider said in a statement. "Net neutrality rules are only as strong as their weakest link, and it's incumbent on the FCC to ensure these interconnection points aren't used to end-run the principles of an Open Internet."