March 3, 2015
The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced a reclassification of the Internet as a public utility for the first time. It follows last month’s call from the UK Government for a similar approach to ensure that everybody has equal access to the online world. The FCC ruling specifically forbids Internet service providers creating a range of fast and slow services as a way – critics argued – of hijacking the Internet to gain monopolistic control over the digital economy and favour larger websites able to afford the higher rates. The ruling on ‘net neutrality’ has been broadly welcomed, not least by those campaigners who have argued for years that it would mean an end to the Internet as we have known it; an open platform that offers equal opportunities to all users and content providers and so fosters innovation.
“The FCC [has taken] important steps to ensure that the US has a world leading broadband program that is fast, fair and open,” said FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, “The open internet order puts in place bright line rules that ban blocking, ban throttling and ban paid prioritization fast lanes. For the first time, open internet rules will be fully applicable to mobile. Consumers now know that content online will not, cannot, be blocked, or their service throttled … I have spent a lot of time in public policy. Today is the proudest day of my public policy life.”
One ISP took the news on net neutrality in particularly ill grace. Verizon issued a news release in morse code in protest at “rules on broadband Internet services that were written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph…this is an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended consequences for consumers and various parts of the internet ecosystem for years to come.”