FCC Proposal Passes In Landmark Decision; Net Neutrality And Municipal Broadband Win, ISPs Lose

The FCC Open Meeting today marked a drastic change in the way the Internet and Internet services function, both in the United States and worldwide. In the meeting, the FCC Commission voted on Chairman Tom Wheeler's sweeping proposal, which redefines Internet access as a utility and also removes legal barriers to cities that want to roll out their own broadband networks, in competition with traditional ISPs.

Both sections of the proposal passed today with a vote of 3 against 2, which will result in huge benefits for users and limitations for ISPs.

Municipal Broadband

The meeting covered a proposal submitted by Chairman Wheeler discussing municipal broadband networks, the open Internet, and broadband as a telecommunications utility service. For the municipal broadband discussion, the case was very specific to Tennessee and North Carolina, where two cities had previously developed municipal broadband networks.

Speaking in support of the proposal, FCC commissioner Mignon Clyburn said that "Millions are trapped in digital darkness." Current laws restrict the growth of broadband Internet service, and the lack of competition often results in service fees being much higher than is acceptable. "Break down barriers to infrastructure investment so that no American where they live, no matter their economic status, will be stuck in digital darkness," said Clyburn.

"Broadband is more than a technology, its a platform for opportunity," said FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel. "Without it, no community has a fair shot in the digital age," she added.

Speaking in opposition to the proposal were FCC commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O'Reilly. Their opposition focused on the argument that this change is outside of the FCC's power and is a violation of sovereign states' rights. They also cited the market influence of allowing municipal broadband, claiming that it went against free economy and enterprise and did not protect tax payers. Further, they pointed to a history of poor performance by municipal broadband networks.

The problem with the claims by these commissioners is that they are inaccurate. According to Chairman Wheeler, the FCC does have authority to intervene between cities and states in this matter, by the authority given to them by Title II of the Communications Act. In addition, the statement that municipal broadband networks provide poor performance and service is incorrect, as municipal broadband networks inside of the U.S. provide the fastest Internet service in the country, rivaling major cities such as Paris and Seoul.

After presenting testimony from four members of the audience about how the lack of affordable fast Internet service has affected their lives, the FCC took a vote, and the proposal to remove laws prohibiting municipal broadband networks was passed by a vote of three to two. Although this only applies to North Carolina and Tennessee, editorial rights were also granted allowing for revisions later that could extend to more states.

The Open Internet; Internet As A Utility

After the vote for municipal broadband networks, the meeting turned its attention to the proposal for the open Internet. The discussion began with Clyburn speaking in support of the proposal.

According to Clyburn, the Internet has become a crucial force for free speech, and by blocking websites and applications, ISPs impair free speech and hamper free expression, violating the first amendment. Said Clyburn, "Who decides how you use the Internet? Who decides what content you can view? Should there be a single interest or fast lanes?" She further stated, "We cannot let the interests of profit silence the voice of pursuing dignity."

"Our Internet economy is the envy of the world. We invented it. The application's economy began right here on our shores. Sustaining what has made us innovative, fierce and creative should not be a choice. It should be an obligation," said Rosenworcel. "We cannot have gate keepers who tell us what we can and cannot do, and where we can and cannot go online, and we do not need blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization schemes that undermine the Internet as we know it."

Before the vote, Chairman Wheeler spoke. "No one, neither government nor corporate, should control access to the Internet. The Internet is simply too important to let broadband providers be the one to make the rules," he said. "This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the first amendment is a plan to regulate free speech."

The vote to make the Internet a government utility and remove restrictions on the Internet that limit usage passed with editorial rights. As a result of the new legislation, it now becomes illegal for ISPs to monitor the Internet usage of its customers. Services like Netflix cannot be charged for faster service, Internet speed cannot be throttled, and it has become an obligation for the government to provide affordable fast Internet in locations where this need is not being met.

As a result of the passing of this proposal, the Internet has radically changed for everyone. Those inside of the U.S. will experience the greatest benefits as faster Internet services are developed by municipal governments. The open Internet will benefit web-based businesses and users of web services worldwide.

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Michael Justin Allen Sexton is a Contributing Writer for Tom's Hardware US. He covers hardware component news, specializing in CPUs and motherboards.
  • fimbulvinter
  • n3cw4rr10r
    I never thought the FCC would actually do this. I am pleasantly surprised.
  • jrharbort
    Is anyone else a little shocked that this actually passed as quickly as it did?
    It passed pretty quickly, but this change did not come soon enough if you ask me. But hopefully we'll start seeing drastic improvements from here on out. I'm just wondering how long it'll actually take for ISPs to start taking action with these new rules and regulations.
  • kyee7k
    Tom Wheeler tweaks net neutrality plan after Google push

    Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2015/02/fcc-chairman-tom-wheeler-net-neutrality-plan-google-115502.html#ixzz3St2kzO00
    Instead of lobbying and buying off Congress, the major ISPs have a permanent foot in the door on net neutrality laws passed in the U.S. favoring their companies. In addition, these commissioners have a golden parachute once they retire from government service.
  • Grognak
    Welcome to the 21st century, United States! We were waiting for you.
  • kdw75
    We currently have a monopoly. Our city of 75,000 only has one broadband provider, that is speeds over 4Mb/s down.
  • DookieDraws
    Not sure what to think, really. Comcast already has me bent over the saw-horse tickling the ol' prostate with their overpriced service(s). I just hope this doesn't lead to more "extra" fees and taxes being added to my already high monthly bill! One thing's for sure, I do know how to call and cancel!
  • big_tiger
    Yay for FCC controlled internet access. (Sarcasm)
  • Emanuel Elmo
    So tell me The Original Ralph, I have been seeing fewer carriers in my neighborhood. OH WAIT THERE IS ONLY ONE!!! TWC!!!! Prices have been steadily increasing since 2006 for me when I moved in my house and yet still no speed increase. I wonder who I will got too. OH WAIT... NOBODY!!!! CAUSE TWC OWNS MY NECK OF THE NEIGHBORHOOD AND WILL NOT ALLOW ANYONE ELSE BECAUSE THEY FEAR COMPETITION. So tell me how net neutrality make me loose.


    News flash buddy, the cost of the net was going to go up if net neutrality wasnt in place including your phone bill and any internet service you would by buying (ie NETFLIX, HULU, How you would have like to be charge for using pandora just because your ISP says so and if not, you will not be able to use it unless you pay)

    I guess you like being strangled by the balls. Go home and rethink what net neutrality is all about. I guess you don't like equal rights and are in favor of slaves.
  • x_arrow
    So the internet is a utility now. How do you pay for your other utilities. Phone by the minute, electricity by the kilowatt.... so now you will get the fastest internet speed your provider offers but you will pay by the gig. Better hope you are not a power user.