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What does the FCC's net neutrality vote mean?

Matt Hamblen | Feb. 27, 2015
Net neutrality has been debated for a decade, but the Federal Communications Commission's historic vote on Thursday signals only the beginning of further battles and likely lawsuits.

Producer and writer Veena Sud described at the hearing how her video series The Killing had been canceled on AMC television, but gained renewed life with online streaming over Netflix. Such online series are able to promote more programming competition and bring more women into executive video production roles, she said.

Malkia Cyril, director of the Center for Media Justice, said the FCC order helps keep the Internet open to protect civil rights and promote fair policing in cities such as Ferguson, Mo., as well as fair wages in workplaces. "The Internet is where movements like Black Lives Matter are born and where dissent is protected and where underserved communities can plead our cause," she said in a conference call.

Like many other supporters, Cyril argued that enforcement of the FCC's rules will matter as much as the creation of the new rules.

Opponents to the FCC's new rules, meanwhile, have thrown out a wide range of objections.

Most critics call the FCC rules an over-regulation of a thriving Internet industry. A group of congressional Republicans had urged the FCC to delay its vote, while U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., described reliance on Title II as an outdated, 1930s-style utility regulation.

Picking up on that theme, Verizon posted a blog shortly after the FCC vote that was composed using old-fashioned Morse Code and titled, "FCC's 'Throwback Thursday' Move Imposes 1930s Rules on the Internet." (The blog includes a translation of the press release with a 1934 dateline and the typeface of a manual typewriter.)

Blackburn also argued that in the future, the FCC could impose rate regulation on Internet providers.

However, Pai and O'Rielly, the Republican FCC commissioners, both hammered on the likelihood of coming FCC rate regulation on Internet service providers. Pai predicted $11 billion each year in new fees would be imposed on consumers. O'Reilly argued that the "just and reasonable" review clause can be interpreted to grant the FCC the ability to regulate rates set by Internet providers.

To rebut their point, former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps, now with Common Cause, said that "regulation of rates is not what's being contemplated" by the FCC. He pointed out that the FCC has the potential to spur expansion of high speed, affordable broadband without controlling rates set by Internet providers. Measures the FCC can use to spur expansion include supporting municipal broadband by pre-empting state laws (as the FCC did in a separate 3-2 vote affecting communities in Tennessee and North Carolina) and slowing down industry mergers that can reduce the number of broadband competitors.

AT&T Chairman Randall Stephenson has emerged as one of the most vocal opponents of the new FCC rules. He has appeared many times in recent months on television programs to point out that litigation against the FCC's rules could last up to three years before real clarity emerges on how the regulation will work and what Internet providers will be allowed to do. Discussions are underway as to whether individual companies like AT&T and others would file separate suits or would join together in a massive lawsuit, he said recently.


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