In a vote that was closely observed, live-blogged, live-streamed and tweeted about, the Federal Communications Commission, as expected, approved the first-ever Internet access regulations yesterday.
The vote is poised to enshrine the concept of net neutrality — the idea that all Internet traffic be treated equally — into law.
The 3-2 vote, which also must get congressional approval, creates three new areas of regulation:
1) Internet-service providers will not be able to block legal applications or services
2) Providers will have to disclose their network management techniques in a push for transparency
3) Providers will not be able to “unfairly discriminate” against content
The glaring exception in the somewhat less-than-sweeping new regulations is the exclusion of wireless. FCC voted to keep cellphone networks separate, Washington Post technology blog Post Tech reports, meaning wireless networks are exempt from rules requiring content to be treated equally.
Business tech consultant Larry Downes, writing a guest column for CNet, characterized the vote as “anticlimactic and incomplete,” saying the proposed new regulations are not that much different from ones Genachowski unveiled more than a year ago.
The vote was split along party lines, with Democrats Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps, withholding their reservations that the plan, which Genachowski presented as a draft earlier this month, didn’t go far enough to preserve the “open Internet.”
Republicans on the commission, Robert McDowell and Meredith Atwell Baker, were staunchly against the proposal and let it be known in public remarks before the vote.
For some Republican lawmakers, and other critics of the proposal, the move represented a “power grab.” Others castigated what they saw as a tame, toothless proposal for not going far enough to create Internet equality.
Genachowski, though, seemed to relish the middle ground he appeared firmly planted on.
“I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework — one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment,” he said.
Industry remained just as divided. Verizon suggested the regulations would only lead to more uncertainty in the marketplace.
“This assertion of authority without solid statutory underpinnings will yield continued uncertainty for industry, innovators and investors,” the company said in a statement. “In the long run, that is harmful to consumers and the nation.”
But, telecom giant Comcast praised the plan’s “workable balance between the needs of the marketplace for certainty and everyone’s desire that Internet openness be preserved.”