FCC Ruling on Net Neutrality: What's Next?

By a 3-to-2 vote along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed new rules on Net neutrality last week. The rules establish the Internet as a utility, but court battles loom before the FCC actions can take effect. Here's what happened, a summary of the news coverage, what it all means, reaction from different sources and what is likely to happen next.

Some call it a huge victory, with a golden era of new competition and innovation to come. Others call it a government takeover of the Internet. There are warnings of lawsuits, new taxes and the end of the Internet as we know it.

But regardless of your personal viewpoint on the actions taken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) this past week, there is no doubt that the vote marked a historic moment in the brief history of cyberspace. This video points out what was at stake (prior to the FCC meeting.)

News Roundup

In all of the issues related to technology and security that I have covered over the past decade, I have never seen a more divisive and bitterly fought debate than this FCC ruling.

While I generally just give a few examples of the range of opinions and arguments that represent a topic, I am making an exception in this blog. I believe that a lengthy list of media responses is both helpful and necessary to understand and summarize the various perspectives and heated reactions to the ruling on both sides.  

Here’s a quick summary of what some of the nation’s top newspapers, websites and technology magazines had to say about the FCC ruling. It will quickly become clear that opinions are all over the map.

Washington PostThe FCC approves strong net neutrality rules

The Federal Communications Commission for the first time classified Internet providers as public utilities Thursday, a landmark vote that officials said will prevent cable and telecommunications companies from controlling what people see on the Web.

The move, approved 3 to 2 along party lines, was part of a sweeping set of new “net neutrality” rules aimed at banning providers of high-speed Internet access such as Verizon and Time Warner Cable from blocking Web sites they don’t like or auctioning off faster traffic speeds to the highest bidders….

The rules ban Internet providers from several specific activities: They can’t block or stop Web services such as Netflix. They can’t slow down or “throttle” content from particular Web sites. And they can’t speed up a Web site’s traffic, particularly in exchange for money.

New York TimesF.C.C. Approves Net Neutrality Rules, Classifying Broadband Internet Service as a Utility

The Federal Communications Commission voted on Thursday to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility, a milestone in regulating high-speed Internet service into American homes.

Tom Wheeler, the commission chairman, said the F.C.C. was using “all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers” and preserve the Internet’s role as a “core of free expression and democratic principles.”

USA TodayBattles loom over tough new neutrality rules

Despite the Federal Communications Commission's historic vote Thursday in favor of net neutrality, the fate of the Internet is far from settled.

The FCC's action triggered jubilation among open Internet enthusiasts, but the powerful telecom industry is poised for a legal challenge to the new rules. And Republicans in Congress are pushing legislation that would supersede the FCC's approach….

BloombergWhat you need to know about the net neutrality decision

The FCC vote on net neutrality means lots of rhetoric and lawyers but not too much for consumers, at least for now.

Bloomberg also offered this analysis after the FCC hearing. Apple Co-Founder Steve Wozniak discusses the FCC approving Net Neutrality Internet rules with Bloomberg’s Peter Cook on "Bloomberg West."

One more from Bloomberg: This article on how Verizon responded in morse code to the ruling.

National JournalThe Republican Party is Divided on Net Neutrality

"There's going to be a lot of Republicans in both the House and Senate who are going to want to express their opposition to what the FCC is doing," Sen. John Thune, who chairs the upper chamber's Commerce Committee, told National Journal moments before the FCC vote took place. "If we can't come together behind a legislative solution, I suspect that those other options are on the table."

Thune, the Senate's No. 3 Republican, has been at the forefront of his party's efforts to pursue legislation that would essentially enforce the meat of the FCC's net-neutrality protections without designating the Internet as a "telecommunications service." Though Thune has had some success earning the interest of a handful of moderate Democrats, such as Sens. Bill Nelson and Claire McCaskill, most Democrats have shown little interest in the proposal.

"Along with many of my colleagues, I regard this as a nonstarter," Sen Al Franken, a vocal net-neutrality proponent, said late Thursday in reference to Thune's legislation. 

ZDNet AT&T and Verizon lash out at FCC after Net Neutrality ruling 

Jim Cicconi, senior vice president of external and legislative affairs who responsible for AT&T's global public policy organization and the AT&T Foundation, took things to a personal level in the first line of his response:

“Perhaps I'm betraying my years, but in Washington policy circles there has always been tension between those interested in solving problems and those who see policy disputes as a test of ideology. I'd readily admit falling into the former camp, and have the policy scars to prove it….”

After complaining about Beltway politics a bit more, Cicconi compared today's decision to 2010, describing the latest verdict as "a rejection of the compromise win and an embrace, however reluctant, of the political fight."

Fox NewsSave the Internet: FCC Net Neutrality rules worst example of government intervention... ever

Of all the government interventions by the Obama administration, the plan released Thursday by the Federal Communications Commission to regulate the Internet is the worst.

Yes, ObamaCare is massive and is clogging one-sixth of the economy. But even before ObamaCare, government had a huge imprint on the health care industry with Medicaid and Medicare. Also, regulations on pharmaceutical and insurance industries led to their energies being focused as much on pleasing government bureaucracies as curing illnesses.

But the Internet is young, fresh, alive and untainted. The FCC’s plan to muddy the pure waters of the Internet pollutes the one free flow of information on the planet.

PC WorldThe FCC net neutrality ruling: 5 things you need to know and

GOP: Net neutrality proposal could lead to broadband taxes

U.S. President Barack Obama’s call for the Federal Communications Commission to pass net neutrality rules by reclassifying broadband as a regulated public utility is a bad idea that could raise broadband prices by 16 percent or more, a parade of Republican politicians and conservative activists said Friday.

CNN MoneyFCC Adopts Historic Internet Rules

C|NETNet neutrality a reality: FCC votes to bring Internet under utility-style rules  

WiredThe FCC’s Vote to Protect Net Neutrality Is a Huge Win for the Internet 

The 317-page order, entitled Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,will take effect 60 days after it is published in the Federal Register, a process that’s expected to take several weeks.

With the vote, the FCC is changing the way it views both wireless and fixed-line broadband service providers, reclassifying them as “Title II” common carriers under the nation’s telecommunications laws…. But it’s also a return to the regulatory regime that governed consumer internet services 20 years ago, when hundreds of dial-up internet service providers competed on Title II-regulated phone networks….

“It is a historic day in the history of the Internet,” said the man who coined the term “net neutrality,” Columbia University professor Tim Wu in an emailed statement. “Net neutrality, long in existence as a principle, has been codified in a way that will likely survive court scrutiny. More generally, this marks the beginning of an entirely new era of how communications are regulated in the United States.”

FCC Overrules State Laws on Broadband — Governors Not Happy

Local broadband also won a victory with the vote that pre-empts state laws and allows two cities to build out their own municipally run broadband.

The decision was prompted by separate petitions from Wilson, N.C., and Chattanooga, Tenn. — both cities established high-speed, gigabit internet services, but have been barred from expanding to neighboring communities due to existing state laws. So far, 19 states have similar regulations to those that the FCC is overriding in Wilson and Chattanooga, but today's ruling affects only those two specific cases….

Unsurprisingly, the cable establishment and entrenched ISPs have lobbied against this becoming a trend, with the opposition (and dissenting commissioners) trying to frame it as an aggressive overreach of the FCC's authority. "We don’t take lightly the matter of preempting state laws," admitted Wheeler. But the chairman made clear this was a situation in which the FCC saw no other choice but to act. "The human faces of those who are condemned to second-rate broadband are a message to all of us."

The National Governors Association (NGA) released a statement that expressed disappointment in the FCC ruling. Here's an excerpt:

Last August, NGA filed comments arguing that the FCC should reject petitions seeking pre-emption because the Telecommunications Act of 1996 prohibits the pre-emption of state laws absent express authority.

Next Steps

If you are thinking that major change is right around the corner, you may have to wait a while. Both sides expect upcoming lawsuits and/or a new legislation solution to take years to resolve.

While there are huge discrepancies surrounding the impact and trajectory of the Internet changes flowing from this FCC ruling, Thursday’s new rules from the FCC seem more like the opening shots in a war for the future of cyberspace infrastructure than a final battle settling the matter.

There are also varying views on what is next for local government-owned broadband, but this C|NET article points out 7 things net neutrality won’t do.

The last item listed in the C|NET article may provide the most useful words to end this blog on — but perhaps for different reasons than the author intended.

What changes in cyberspace right now? Nothing.

But down the road, what could this FCC action change? The future of the Internet.

The debate is over whether it’s for better or for worse.

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