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“The internet must remain open. We will protect the values of an open internet, both in the last mile as well as at the point of interconnection,” FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said at the long-awaited hearing on net neutrality — the concept that all online traffic must be equally accessible.
The ruling delivers a blow to senior Republicans and large U.S. cable providers such as Comcast and Verizon, which poured $ 44.2 million US into lobbying efforts to allow some internet users to pay for zippier connectivity.
— Paulette Aniskoff (@PAniskoff44) February 26, 2015
Thursday’s long-awaited vote, which passed 3-2 in favour of net neutrality, ended the debate.
In a statement following the vote, Verizon’s senior vice president of public policy Michael Glover slammed the ruling as “badly antiquated,” characterizing it as a regulatory overreach that would restrict internet service providers from offering the best access.
The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission adopted that approach to net neutrality in 2009, and Canada has strong net neutrality rules governed by Internet Traffic Management Practices.
When the big U.S. cable providers succeeded last year in having a D.C. appeals court strike down open internet rules, “the internet freaked out collectively,” Tabish said.
Many users had adopted an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mindset on internet policy, he said.
A wrinkle in the previous rules came down to an 81-year-old piece of legislation from the Roosevelt era.
“The rules weren’t founded on Title II of the Communications Act,” Tabish explained, referring to the 1934 regulations covering common carriage rules “going all the way back to the telegraph and telephone networks.”
By now reclassifying internet broadband as a Title II service — effectively making the internet a public utility — web access should be “bulletproof” against meddling by internet service providers, Tabish said.
FCC commissioners opposing net neutrality reiterated arguments at Thursday’s session that stricter regulation would put a chokehold on free enterprise and lead to higher taxation.
“The carriers really thought they had this issue won,” said Michael Geist, a professor at the University of Ottawa and the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law.
So how did things begin to tip in favour of net neutrality?
Geist credits “a strong public voice” online, as well as HBO host John Oliver’s comedy segment explaining the issue.
“The public spoke very loudly, and it’s been well chronicled that many of the smaller internet companies began to speak out aggressively as well,” he said.
In the FCC hearing, Wheeler himself closed with a “shout-out” to the four million Americans who urged the commission to stand up for net neutrality, and acknowledged a level internet landscape could be an incubator for the next big idea.
“One thing we can all agree on up here is we cannot possibly know what’s going to come up next on the internet,” the chairman said.
“We want to encourage innovation by making sure there’s ground rules. Those ground rules are now in place.”