In expectation of what undoubtedly will be a lengthy and expensive series of court battles over administrative control of access to the Internet, the Federal Communications Commission on March 12 reinforced its position that the Internet—whether wired or wireless—should be considered a public utility.
In doing this, it released for the first time a 400-page document that includes a detailed set of rules aimed at countering as many potential legal challenges as it can now envision.
Significantly, the wireless mobile Internet is now included in the net neutrality rules, where no regulations of this sort previously had existed.
By a 3-2 vote on Feb. 26, the commission approved the sweeping set of net neutrality rules, creating for itself new powers that enable the agency to regulate the Internet as a public utility. If the Internet eventually becomes classified as such, the commission believes it will be better fortified to protect the free flow of online data against business interests that want to regulate the ebb and flow of data for profit purposes.
'Clear and enforceable rules' handed down
FCC officials released the final text of what they termed "the clear and enforceable rules to preserve and protect the open Internet" that were adopted at the Feb. 26 meeting. The commission claimed the rules are the strongest ever adopted; they ban data blocking, data throttling, and paid prioritization, and, for the first time, mobile broadband is in the mix.
Cable and mobile Internet providers, including AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint and others have protested these rules, claiming that they kill a fundamental part of their businesses and infringe upon their own cable —and now mobile—bandwidth capacities.
Cable providers charge premium rates for so-called "Internet fast lanes" to content producers who use high percentages of their cable capacity; Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, and YouTube, with their heavy loads of video streaming, are among the most well known of those producers.
Paid prioritization is a subversion of net neutrality because it allows Internet service providers to discriminate among Websites' data, the FCC claimed.
The Federal Trade Commission agrees. In January, it filed a lawsuit against AT&T to stop the cell service provider from throttling download speeds for its customers who still have unlimited wireless data plans. AT&T argues that the FTC has no jurisdiction over its wireless data services, and as such isn't in a position to stop it from throttling download speeds for customers it thinks are using too much of its unlimited data.