FCC Backs Net Neutrality; Rule-Making Process Begins

Dennis Faas's picture

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has backed plans to introduce laws on net neutrality. Unfortunately, they face political and legal challenges which appear to have the support of major Internet carriers.

In a unanimous vote, the five-strong commission agreed to give force to the principles of net neutrality: that Internet providers treat all legal Internet traffic equally. That would outlaw practices such as slowing down access to people using peer-to-peer file-sharing, or blocking applications from running on cellphone networks. The vote doesn't guarantee the rules will come into effect and instead merely starts a formal rule-making process.

Providers, Carriers Have Their Say

The commission had been subject to lobbying from both sides of the debate. Chiefs of several major Internet firms, including Google, YouTube and Amazon wrote in support of harsher rules. But politicians from both major parties wrote a series of joint letters urging the commission to think again.

Most controversially, an AT&T lobbyist wrote to their company's staff suggesting they in turn email the FCC to protest against the plans, giving a list of arguments to use. Critics accused the firm of trying to falsely give the impression that those against net neutrality had support from "ordinary citizens".

A Truly Free Market... or Not

The crux of the debate is that those backing net neutrality say that it gives all websites and Internet services an equal chance of success, creating a truly free marketplace.

Those against the plans say it would place unfair and unnecessary restrictions on Internet carriers, thus interfering with a not-so-free market and deterring firms from future investment.

Legal, Political Challenges Remain

The most immediate challenge to the plan is from Congress itself, where Senator John McCain has introduced the Internet Freedom Act. If that becomes law, the FCC will be barred from introducing any rules enforcing net neutrality.

There have also been questions raised about the way the FCC makes rules and whether they have legal force. (Source: cnn.com)

McCain Receives Large Funds

McCain himself has come under intense scrutiny thanks to a report which shows that over the past two years he has received more than twice as much funding from Internet providers than any other member of Congress: a whopping $894,379. (Source: reuters.com)

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