friday, 27 february of 2015

U.S. bans Internet providers from blocking or slowing web traffic in landmark net neutrality ruling

U.S. regulators invoked broad powers to ensure that Web traffic for all users is treated equally, adopting net-neutrality rules that supporters say will preserve a wide-open Internet and that opponents vow to fight in court.

The measure approved Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission prohibits companies such as AT&T Inc. and Comcast Corp. from blocking or slowing online traffic and from offering faster service in return for payment. It also brings wireless Internet service fully under the rules for the first time.

The 3-2 vote on party lines by FCC commissioners enshrines a regulation backed by the Obama administration and opposed by cable and telephone companies, which say the rules risk stifling a fast-growing Internet and will lead to rate regulation.

“The Internet is too important to allow broadband providers to make the rules,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat appointed by Obama, in comments as the commission prepared to vote in its crowded meeting room in Washington.

With the vote, the FCC is seeking to settle more than a decade of debate about whether the Internet should be a highway offered to all users on equal terms, or whether broadband providers can levy fees and restrict access. The previous set of net-neutrality rules passed by the FCC in 2010 was voided by a federal appeals court, sending Wheeler’s agency back to the drawing board.

The proposal approved Thursday drew comments to the agency from more than 4 million people including President Barack Obama. Republicans in Congress and at the commission opposed Wheeler’s plan, saying the chairman had improperly yielded to Obama’s call for strong rules. They didn’t let up with the vote.

The vote “imposes intrusive government regulations that won’t work to solve a problem that doesn’t exist using legal authority the FCC doesn’t have,” said Ajit Pai, a Republican commissioner who campaigned in TV and radio appearances and on social media against the rules.

The agency debated the rules behind closed doors prior to the public meeting, and didn’t say when it would release the text. The rules take effect after being published in the Federal Register.

The vote is a “radical” step that imposes “badly antiquated regulations,” Michael Glover, senior vice president at Verizon Communications Inc., said in an e-mailed statement. Verizon, the second-largest U.S. telephone company, brought the lawsuit that upended the FCC’s last net neutrality rules.

The agency’s action sets the stage for Internet-service providers to mount a legal challenge. Wheeler’s rules use extensive utility-style powers crafted to govern phone companies. That’s a change from a lighter approach adopted a decade ago when the agency had a Republican majority. Whether the FCC properly switched to the stronger basis for authority will be among issues in expected court challenges.

Internet traffic increasingly is running over mobile networks, so it makes sense to include those connections, Wheeler said in public appearances before the vote. Wireless providers said Congress had exempted their service from strong rules.

(Published by Financial Post – February 26, 2015)

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