BY JULIANNE PEPITONE
ter more than a year of heated public debate, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday passed “net neutrality” rules: They allow the agency to prohibit Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that pay for the privilege.
The new rules treat broadband providers as “common carriers” under Title II of the Telecommunications Act — the same category as utility companies that provide gas, electricity, etc. — in which all customers have equal access to service.
As was expected, the FCC commissioners voted along party lines with the three Democrats voting for the rules and two Republicans voting against.
“There are countries where it is routine for government, not the consumer, to determine who has access and what kind of content can be accessed by its citizens,” said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn at the meeting on Thursday. “I am proud to be able to say we are not one of them.”
The fight leading up to Thursday’s vote drew public debate — the FCC received more than 4 million public comments — and was generally split between content providers like Netflix and Google, in favor, and Internet providers like Comcast and Time Warner Cable, against. (Comcast, a major Internet service provider, is the parent company of NBCUniversal and NBC News.)
Supporters of net neutrality have said allowing Internet “fast lanes” would unfairly raise prices on content services, as they would need to pay providers (and ultimately raise prices for their services) if they want to avoid slow speeds for customers.
But net neutrality opponents say the Title II designation will stifle innovation in broadband. Last May a group of CEOs from Internet providers including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, and Comcast sent a letter to the FCC arguing the new classification allows the FCC to conduct “unprecedented government micromanagement of all aspects of the Internet economy.”
FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai reflected that philosophy in his dissenting remarks on Thursday. “Title II is not just a solution in search of a problem,” he said. “It’s a government solution that creates a real-world problem.”
First published February 26th 2015, 9:59 am