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What does the FCC's net neutrality vote mean?

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 27, 2015
Net neutrality has been debated for a decade, but the Federal Communications Commission's historic vote on Thursday signals only the beginning of further battles and likely lawsuits.

Other provisions of new FCC rules

Also in its vote, the FCC decided to use Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to supplant Title II in its adoption of Open Internet rules. Section 706 was specifically cited by the Court of Appeals in the 2014 Verizon case as giving the commission an independent grant of authority to support such rules.

By using both Section 706 and Title II to invoke new rules, FCC senior officials have said they are employing a "tailored" approach to Open Internet enforcement that will withstand the inevitable lawsuits threatened by multiple ISPs. Title II allows the FCC to use a broad "just and reasonable" standard in its regulation of Internet providers.

One area that is sure to stir up controversy and lawsuits is how the FCC uses its Title II "just and reasonable" standard to act on complaints by so-called "edge" companies, such as Netflix, that connect their services to Internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and other broadband providers. For example, an edge provider could complain to the FCC that its Internet capacity was unreasonably limited by an Internet provider, opening up an FCC inquiry and possible ruling.

Title II also allows competitors to an Internet provider in a community to access the same utility poles and underground conduits, in hopes of boosting the deployment of new broadband networks.

What some supporters and opponents say

Supporting the new FCC order are a range of public interest groups that point to the Internet as the primary medium of free speech today.

In congratulating the grassroots movement that spurred the FCC's action, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., called the effort a 21st-century battle where supporters acted as modern-day Paul Reveres. "You have sounded the alarm and called us to arms ... to advocate for this new set of rules," Markey said in a conference call with reporters. "This revolution was not only televised but it was tweeted ... around the world."

The new rules will help protect the economy and are as important as keeping our air, water and roads safe, Markey added. "Reclassifying under Title II is a major victory for consumers," he said.

During the FCC hearing, Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web, in a pre-recorded video statement , gave his support to the Title II reclassification as the means to keep "permissionless innovation" alive on the Web.

Etsy CEO Chad Dickerson also testified about the value of keeping an unrestricted Internet to support businesses like Etsy, a peer-to-peer e-commerce Web site that supports sales by online artists and designers. In an emotional highlight, Dickerson read a letter from a woman identified only as Nancy from California who had been injured in a traffic accident and was relying on sales of her goods from her chair at home via Etsy. "My dream is alive and viable because of the free Internet," she said.


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