The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted in favour of reclassifying broadband internet access as a common carrier service, a major win for the cause of net neutrality in the country.
Following Internet Slowdown Day
in September last year, the FCC took a vote on whether broadband internet access should enjoy the same common carrier status as voice telephony in the US. As a common carrier, broadband would be afforded protections against interference not available to services classified differently - meaning it will become far harder for internet service providers to hold streaming services to ransom unless they pay for faster access to its customers.
The FCC's ruling, which was voted three to two in favour, also prevents ISPs from blocking or throttling internet connections based on content, the application in use, or particular services, meaning that US ISPs will no longer be able to artificially slow down services like video streaming and peer-to-peer networking, an all-too-common approach known as 'traffic shaping.' The rules apply equally to wired and wireless broadband connections, including 3G, 4G and future mobile connectivity.
The ruling comes following aggressive petitioning from campaign groups on both sides of the fence. 'Congratulations, Team Internet. We put the FCC on the right path at last,
' crowd the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), one of the most vocal supporters of net neutrality, in its statement
on the ruling. 'Reclassification under Title II was a necessary step in order to give the FCC the authority it needed to enact net neutrality rules. But now we face the really hard part: making sure the FCC doesn’t abuse its authority.
The EFF warns that selected sections of the ruling, in particular a rule on ISPs' general conduct, are vague, and could cause problems for both ISPs and customers if not clarified ahead of enforcement.
'The FCC has long been committed to protecting and promoting an Internet that nurtures freedom of speech and expression, supports innovation and commerce, and incentivises expansion and investment by America’s broadband providers. But the agency’s attempts to implement enforceable, sustainable rules to protect the Open Internet have been twice struck down by the courts. Today, the Commission—once and for all—enacts strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future,
' the FCC's announcement
reads. 'These new rules are guided by three principles: America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open — principles shared by the overwhelming majority of the nearly 4 million commenters who participated in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding.