Who Knew? ISP’s are Telecommunications Providers After All!

The verdict is in! On February 26th in a highly charged and historic decision the Federal Communications Commission voted 3 to 2 to declare that broadband internet service providers are indeed telecommunications companies. This subjects them to the “common carrier” rules laid out in Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and therefore can be regulated as utilities. This is a great victory for those who support the doctrine of “Net Neutrality”. It has been over a year now since a federal court ruled against the FCC’s guidelines for an Open Internet and forced them to abandon the no discrimination or blocking of content provisions that had the telecoms in such a tizzy.  After receiving over 4 million comments (the largest number ever recorded)  Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC, has kept his promise and rewrote the rules to bring them into compliance with the court and preserve the doctrine of “Net Neutrality” which, of course, the vast majority of commenters had supported.

Thought of the Day

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." -- Margaret Mead"

In a 400 page Ruling the FCC has reinstated the provisions that prohibit broadband providers from blocking or slowing delivery of any lawful content through their networks for any reason other than “reasonable network management” and bans so-called paid prioritization for the sake of faster delivery. In the next few weeks the order will be published in the Federal Register and nearly all the provisions will take effect 60 days after that unless a court steps in with a preliminary injunction.

Regrettably, that is not only a possibility, it is quite likely. Already the major telecom companies are lawyering up to challenge the new rules. ATT has sent the FCC notice that they intend to challenge this “blatant power grab” by the government. Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon and one of the two Republican members of the FCC who voted against the rules, claims in his dissent that the FCC is “turning it’s back on Internet freedom” . . . “for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told us to do so.”  (Damn that Obama, there he goes again taking away our freedoms!) 😉

As expected, Congress has taken up the matter with a proposal by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) and House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) That reads:

“To amend the Communications Act of 1934 to ensure Internet openness, to prohibit blocking lawful content and non-harmful devices, to prohibit throttling data, to prohibit paid prioritization, to require transparency of network management practices, to provide that broadband shall be considered to be an information service, and to prohibit the Commission or a State commission from relying on section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 as a grant of authority.”

Now that sounds pretty good at first until you get to the part where they return to classifying broadband as an information service which means that it cannot be regulated under Title II as a “common carrier”. And then, for good measure, they throw out section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act that ordered the FCC and state telecom regulators to encourage the timely deployment of “advanced telecommunications capability” to all Americans. Thune and Upton proposed to eliminate any rule-making and enforcement authority associated with that provision, which a federal appeals court has said could be used to impose net neutrality rules. The bill would actually leave the FCC with less authority than it had before. Wheeler was also expected to use the provision to preempt state laws that discourage or bar local governments from building broadband networks.

While there is good reason to celebrate the FCC’s decision, this battle is not over, not by a long shot. One thing is for sure, though, the vast majority of people want a free and open internet without discrimination and without a provision for paid prioritization. The giant telecoms have their work cut out for them, but a lot of money is at stake and we shouldn’t count them out just yet.

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I am a web designer living in Austin, TX. Originally from Ohio I have lived in Kentucky and Oregon. I have BS in Sociology from Bowlingreen State University in Ohio.

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