The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to approve chair Tom Wheeler’s proposal to reclassify broadband under Title II of the federal Communications Act., which means they can be treated as common carriers like landline phone service, which means that they are subject to FCC regulation and must treat all users equally and cannot give preferential faster service to companies that pay them more. This is what has come to be known as ‘net neutrality’.
ProPublica has a nice timeline of this issue. The Republican party, while opposed to this move, seems to be split over how to respond. But cable companies are vowing a series of legal fights so the issue is not yet over. The fight will begin with challenges to the rules as soon as they are published and AT&T has already started this process.
The FCC also said that two municipalities are not bound by state laws that prohibit them from building their own locally run broadband networks. The cable companies want to prevent the public from creating their own networks so that they can continue to gouge them by charging higher prices while providing worse service than is available in most of the developed world. They have used their money and their lobbying power to get states to pass laws in their favor.
While the vote in favor of net neutrality is being hailed by some as a rare victory for genuine grass roots activism, as reader doublereed pointed out, Cenk Uygur predicted back in January before this action that while we should welcome this move, the main reason that the FCC and president Obama were swayed to go in this direction was also because some big internet companies had came out in support of net neutrality. ‘Follow the money’ still remains a good working principle when analyzing political events.