Last year, I asked the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler to stand up and do his job of protecting consumers with the passage of strong net neutrality rules. Today, he did just that. In a landmark victory for those demanding net neutrality, the FCC passed new broadband rules that allow for the government to treat broadband internet as a public utility.
In his statement after the 3-2 vote, FCC chairman Tom Wheeler mentioned the more than 4m people who had submitted comments on the new rules and noted that this vote represented “a red-letter day for internet freedom.” Now that the vote has been approved, broadband will now be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act.
The FCC passed new broadband rules that allow for the government to treat broadband internet as a public utility.
This means that for the first time in its history, the FCC will now be able to protect consumers when the cable and broadband industry steps over the line. For example, the FCC will have substantially more power to punish wireless carriers if they continue “cramming” customers’ bills with illegal charges or try to throttle customer’s speeds for no actual reason. Additionally, the FCC will be able to ban broadband, cable and mobile providers from creating so-called “fast lanes” which block or slow online traffic online.
AT&T and others have been pushing for such fast lanes for several years now through their Sponsored Data programs. Sponsored Data is basically a way for the most financially backed companies to have a significant advantage over startups or smaller companies due to an unnecessary toll put in place by wireless companies wanting another revenue stream from the same service.
With tech giants like ESPN, Facebook and Google getting to pay to have their services and content higher on the chain, why would anyone want to go head-to-head with them financially speaking? Sponsored data will allow fixed and mobile carriers to experiment with all levels of pricing layers, most of which will be to the detriment of those that can’t afford to pay to play.
As expected, many will claim that these rules are all part of a “government takeover” and “heavy government regulation.” Anyone who actually looks at the rules will see that it is almost laughable to think of either of these things will occur under the new rules. The government isn’t taking over the internet, they aren’t telling consumers what they can or can’t do and they won’t be price regulating anything. Which is why in the last few weeks, we have seen countless broadband providers admit at one time that the Title II classification would have little to no effect on their business.
Not to be forgotten, the FCC also passed new rules which ban states from implementing anti-municipal broadband laws. As with the net neutrality vote, this one passed 3-2 along party lines.
What is the next step for today's votes? Lawsuits. Lawsuits. Lawsuits.
What is the next step for today’s votes? Lawsuits. Lawsuits. Lawsuits. Cable and wireless companies have all but guaranteed that they will sue the FCC to stop any Title II classification. Verizon General Counsel Randal Milch admitted in a blog post that any FCC plan which doesn’t decrease already light net neutrality rules “fairly guarantees litigation.” Meanwhile, AT&T’s SEVP of external and legislative affairs, Jim Cicconi, issued a statement claiming that “if the FCC puts such rules in place, we would expect to participate in a legal challenge to such action.”
As Tim Wu, who came up with the net neutrality term, said: “There will be blood.”