The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday voted 3-2 in favor of adopting Chairman Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality plan, establishing the most broad authority to regulate Internet service providers ever proposed.
Commissioners split along partisan lines with Democrats Wheeler, Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel voting in the affirmative and Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly in the negative.
The proposal, which has not been released to the public at the time of this writing, was announced by Wheeler earlier this month and described by the chairman as “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC.” (RELATED: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Finally Reveals His Net Neutrality Plan)
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.
The vote is a victory for content creators like Google YouTube, Amazon, and Netflix, the latter of which brokered higher-paying deals with both Verizon and AT&T earlier this year to continue transmitting its traffic to customers at acceptable speeds.
Service providers including Verizon and AT&T have already vowed to challenged the FCC’s aggressive regulations in court. The agency lost a federal court battle with service providers last year precisely for regulating ISPs similarly to public utilities under the Clinton-era act. The FCC’s loss in that case sparked the net neutrality debate that’s dominated the agency’s headlines over the last year, as Wheeler mulled over which direction to take the FCC. (RELATED: FCC Votes For New ‘Net Neutrality’ Internet Regulations)
Since the plan was announced earlier this month, Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the FCC have criticized it as a massive government overreach, which they allege threatens to destroy market competition and slow Internet infrastructure investment into network growth and innovation by ISPs. (RELATED: Republican FCC Commissioner Slams ‘Obama’s 332-Page Plan To Regulate The Internet’)
The plan has faced equal criticism for its identical nature to the one President Obama called on the independent agency to adopt in November, prompting several congressional committees — including the House Oversight Committee — to launch investigations into how much influence the White House exerted over the FCC in the drafting of Wheeler’s proposal. (RELATED: House Oversight Committee Demands FCC Turn Over Unredacted Net Neutrality Emails With White House)
South Dakota Republican Sen. John Thune, who chairs the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee that oversees the FCC, said he and congressional Republicans will propose a legislative solution to net neutrality after the FCC’s vote. A bill drafted by Thune and House Republicans in January would ban ISPs from content blocking, throttling Internet speeds or establishing fast and slow lanes, while avoiding heavy-handed utility-style regulation. (RELATED: Congressional Republicans Are NOT Giving Up The Net Neutrality Fight)