FCC Reclassifies Internet Providers in Net Neutrality Vote

The Federal Communications Commission approved new policies on Thursday to reclassify Internet service providers as Title II carriers in a move to protect net neutrality. The change gives the FCC the authority to block companies like Comcast and Verizon from creating prioritized "fast lanes" for broadband data that cost content providers more to use.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler moves forward with Net Neutrality planFCC Chairman Tom Wheeler moves forward with Net Neutrality plan

The new policies were approved in a 3-2 vote along party lines with the Democrat FCC members voting for, and the Republican members voting against. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the new policy guarantees "no one—whether government or corporate—should control free open access to the Internet."

The Republican committee members said the policy change wasn't necessary, and that the FCC was trying to fix a problem that isn't really there. They also claimed the FCC doesn't have the authority to enact the changes it just made.

One of those dissenting votes came from Ajut Pai who claimed the public wasn't asked for input (it was), and that the other commissioners moved forward with the policy change only because they were told to do so by President Obama. He added that the FCC was "turning its back in Internet freedom."

Regardless of his opinion, the FCC is now in a position to stop ISPs from essentially extorting content providers by demanding more money or face seeing their data streams throttled so customers can't watch streaming videos or listen to audio. Both Verizon and Comcast have already pressured Netflix into paying extra fees to get its streaming video content to subscribers—something they won't be able to do with other streaming content providers.

The new changes also mean ISPs can't block or charge for other content that passes through their networks, which means they won't be able to do things like create their own Internet search engines, for example, then charge customers extra if they want to see Google's results, too.

The FCC also shot down state laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that limit municipal broadband growth. The laws essentially kept municipalities that built their own broadband services from competing with Time Warner, Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.

With those laws preempted, towns that get requests from neighboring communities to extend their broadband coverage can now consider doing so. Mr. Wheeler commented on the change, saying, "You can't say you're for broadband and then turn around and endorse limits on who can offer it."

Now that the FCC has drawn its line in the sand, some ISPs have vowed to fight the changes in court. Verizon made it clear late last year it plans to sue for a reversal, and AT&T said as much earlier this month.

This is exactly what Chairman Wheeler has been expecting, and he made it clear the FCC has worked hard to make sure its new policies will hold up in court.

"We are going to get sued, because that's the history," he said. "We don't want to ignore history."

With that, months of planning, preparation, and collection of public opinion has been set out on the table. The FCC's position is that it has the authority to protect the idea of an open Internet, and it's willing to do what it takes to make that happen.

ISPs, however, aren't pleased with the vote and would much rather have their version of net neutrality where they control network traffic. It's a safe bet Verizon, AT&T, and other ISPs are already working on their legal filings.

[Thanks to NPR and Ars Technica for quotes from today's vote proceedings]