In the first act of US Internet access regulation, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 to pass the first net neutrality laws. The measure will make sure that home internet users will be able to access any legal Web material, with some regulations set in place to protect people browsing the Internet on their mobile phones. The legislation was introduced over a year ago by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. The two opposing votes came from the Republican members of the committee, who said that they felt the measures were unnecessary.
“Today, for the first time, we are adopting rules to preserve basic Internet values,” Genachowski said according to AP. “For the first time, we’ll have enforceable rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness.”
The new rules require internet service providers (ISPs) to let all users have access to all legal content online, including applications, online calling services, Internet video and Web applications that may compete against the ISP’s business. Broadband providers can manage data on their systems to deal with issues, such as blocking programs that cause network congestion and preventing spam, but they must publicly disclose their practices. While wireless carriers are also subject to the same ruling, they have more rights to block and manage data traffic because their systems have more bandwidth constraints. (More on Techland: Consumer Reports Names AT&T Worst Wireless Service Provider)
In addition, the new regulations make “unreasonable network discrimination” illegal, meaning that services that force the users to access sites from their broadband provider or business partners or even make suggestions that prefer access to these sites will no longer be allowed. The companies are allowed to try different techniques with routing traffic using smart grids and use home security systems from partnered networks as long as these measures do not impede regular Internet access.
The loopholes disappointed Genachowski’s two other Democratics on the board, who believed the laws could have been more stringent. “Today’s action could – and should – have gone further,” said Michael Copps, one of the other two Democrats on the commission, adding that the new regulations do help “to put consumers, not Big Phone or Big Cable, in control of their online experiences.”
According to the Washington Post, some public interest groups have spoken up against today’s ruling, saying they will consider filing suit because they believe the new act still doesn’t protect consumer rights. “The activist Internet community is independent, innovative and fearless in this power grab. The telecom giants may have bitten off more than they can chew,” Former FCC commissioner and president of the nonprofit Media Access Project Tyrone Brown said.
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