US regulators have embraced net neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission today announced that it is reclassifying broadband internet as a telecommunications service, giving itself the leeway to impose restrictions on service providers. It also rolled out "Bright Line Rules," banning a handful of practices that were at the heart of the net neutrality debate.
The FCC ruled that service providers cannot block access to or throttle (slow down traffic to) legal applications, services, or devices. Additionally, the commission banned paid prioritization of traffic, preventing service providers from favoring traffic from one source or giving it a so-called "fast lane." While service providers can now be regulated like utilities, the FCC specified that broadband companies would not be subjected to rate regulation or forced network unbundling.
"We know from the history of previous networks that both human nature and economic opportunism act to encourage network owners to become gatekeepers that prioritize their interests above the interests of their users," FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said in a statement. "As the D.C. Circuit observed in the Verizon decision and as the public record affirms, broadband providers have both the economic incentive and the technological capability to abuse their gatekeeper position."
In her own statement, commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel acknowledged the scope of the ruling, and the influence public opinion had on it.
"Four million Americans wrote this agency to make known their ideas, thoughts, and deeply held opinions about Internet openness," Rosenworcel said. "They lit up our phone lines, clogged our e-mail in-boxes, and jammed our comment system. That might be messy, but whatever our disagreements on net neutrality are, I hope we can agree that's democracy in action and something we can all support."
At least one service provider disagreed, as Verizon released its own statement in the wake of the FCC ruling. Verizon derided the new rules as antiquated in a statement released both as Morse code and in English, but using a font designed to look like it came from an old typewriter.
Verizon senior vice president of public policy and government affairs Michael E. Glover spoke for the company, saying, "The FCC's move is especially regrettable because it is wholly unnecessary. The FCC had targeted tools available to preserve an open Internet, but instead chose to use this order as an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended negative consequences for consumers and various parts of the Internet ecosystem for years to come."
[UPDATE]: The Entertainment Software Association released a statement on the ruling, saying, "Great online video game experiences depend upon low latency, high bandwidth connections. We hope that the rule announced today by the FCC will promote continued development of fast online connections while protecting gamers from anti-competitive and discriminatory practices."