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.
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.