In a partisan vote Thursday, Commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 (two Democratic commissioners voted alongside Chairman Wheeler, also a Democrat) to reclassify broadband Internet access service—the Internet service that customers receive from their Internet Service Providers (ISPs)—from an “information service” to a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act. This means that the FCC will treat ISPs more like public utilities, such as phone, power, and water companies.
Block access to legal content, applications, services, and devices.
Impair or degrade lawful traffic on basis of content, applications, service, or any class.
Favor some Internet traffic over other traffic for consideration of any kind – i.e., no fast lanes.
While these may seem beneficial at first glance, what’s troublesome with this approach is that it is counterproductive toward the mission of an open Internet. Making Internet service look more like utility services—legally speaking—doesn’t promote the openness, innovation or opportunity, which has helped the internet thrive, lead to exciting new services and help create jobs. In the many decades the Internet has been around, it has functioned and responded to consumers’ wants and needs without government intervention.
Some of the biggest names on the web have benefited over the years from this light regulatory framework. In fact, the Internet has thrived over the last 10 years under its previous legal classification. By imposing new, stricter regulatory rules on ISPs, the FCC could potentially slow down broadband investment and reduce competition among providers, which helps keep broadband costs low.
Critics say these claims are bogus. However, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell has eloquently explained it:
“All hyperbole aside, the issue isn't whether people will invest — of course they will, they have businesses to run," Powell said. "The real question is, will it be at a diminished and dampened level compared to the velocity and ambitions that the country has?”
Unfortunately, the FCC is likely to face legal challenges to its rules, miring the debate in the courts and creating further uncertainty. In the meantime, we are hopeful Congress will work towards a bipartisan approach that strikes the appropriate balance among innovation, competition and broad access to the Internet.