After more than a month of heated debate between regulators, lawmakers, companies and interest groups, the FCC on Thursday finally released the
Internet regulations the agency voted to adopt two weeks ago.
The agency’s 313-page Open Internet Order is accompanied by an additional 70-plus pages of individual statements by the five commissioners, two of whom dissented in the vote to adopt the new regulations. (RELATED: FCC Votes In Favor Of Net Neutrality)
Under the plan, the FCC will regulate Internet service providers (ISPs) under a modernized interpretation of Title II of the 1996 Telecommunications Act — a regulatory proposal inspired by those used to break up telephone monopolies in the 1930s.
Under Wheeler’s “21st century” Title II, the FCC will regulate ISPs essentially as public utilities, and bar them from segregating or blocking Internet content, establishing fast and slow lanes for web traffic or requiring Internet content creators to set up special deals and pay higher prices for acceptable transmission speeds.
Dissenting Republican Commissioners Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly spent the weeks since Chairman Tom Wheeler announced the plan in early February calling for its release to the public, and argued the FCC should hold a period of public comment on the proposal prior to last month’s vote.
“Americans love the free and open Internet,” Pai, who has led the month-long fight against plan, remarked in his dissenting statement. “We relish our freedom to speak, to post, to rally, to learn, to listen, to watch, and to connect online.”
“The Internet has become a powerful force for freedom, both at home and abroad. So it is sad to witness the FCC’s unprecedented attempt to replace that freedom with government control.”
Service providers, their lobbyists and Republicans on Capitol Hill have criticized the order as a massive government overreach, which they allege threatens to destroy market competition and slow Internet infrastructure investment into network growth and innovation.
Despite the aggressive nature of the plan, which in Wheeler’s own words represents “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” the chairman elected to follow FCC protocol and released the rules after the vote.
“We listened. We learned. And we adjusted our approach based on the public record,” Wheeler said of the plan’s marked difference from his first proposal last May. “In the process we saw a graphic example of why open and unfettered communications are essential to freedom of expression in the 21st century.”
Internet service providers, their allies and Republicans in Congress with their own proposal have already started combing through the lengthy plan, and will no doubt issue their grievances and subsequent legal challenges based on the dissenting analyses of O’Rielly and Pai, the latter of whom described the legal flaws as “glaring.”
“Unfortunately, the order released today begins a period of uncertainty that will damage broadband investment in the United States,” AT&T Vice President Jim Cicconi said in a statement. “Ultimately, though, we are confident the issue will be resolved by bipartisan action by Congress or a future FCC, or by the courts.”
The fight over the new rules is only just beginning. Outside of a sure challenge in federal court — where ISPs beat the FCC last January over utility-style regulation — the House and Senate committees that oversee the FCC are working to gain support for a bill that would include the protections sought in Wheeler’s plan, without heavy-handed Title II-style regulation.
House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz is pursing another avenue by investigating whether the White House inappropriately influenced the independent agency’s rules, which include word-for-word polices President Obama called on the FCC to adopt last November.