WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to approve strong net neutrality rules in a stunning decision, defying vocal, months-long opposition by telecom and cable companies and Republicans on Capitol Hill.
Democratic Commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn joined Chairman Tom Wheeler to approve a rule that reclassifies consumer broadband as a utility under Title II of the Communications Act.
The FCC intends to use this new authority to ban “paid prioritization,” a practice whereby Internet service providers can charge content producers a premium for giving users more reliable access to that content, as well as to ban blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. These rules also apply to mobile access.
According to a fact sheet released by the FCC, the agency plans to enforce its new open Internet rules through “investigation and processing of formal and informal complaints.” For the first time, the FCC can also address complaints at interconnection points, the gateway between ISPs and the rest of the Internet, on a case-by-case basis.
“The Internet is simply too important to allow broadband providers to be the ones making the rules,” Wheeler said prior to the vote.
At the vote, Clyburn pointed out that “absent the rules we adopt today,” ISPs would be “free to block, throttle, favor or discriminate … for any user, for any reason, or for no reason at all.”
The FCC’s two Republican commissioners attacked the vote. Commissioner Ajit Pai called the decision an “about-face” and stoked conservative fears by claiming, “We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason only: President Obama told us to do so.”
Those gathered in one FCC viewing room gasped and burst into laughter upon hearing Pai’s remark.