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Regulators OK Tougher Internet Rules   02/27 06:28

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Internet activists declared victory over the nation's big 
cable companies Thursday, after the Federal Communications Commission voted to 
impose the toughest rules yet on broadband service to prevent companies like 
Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from creating paid fast lanes and slowing or blocking 
web traffic.

   The 3-2 vote ushered in a new era of government oversight for an industry 
that has seen relatively little. It represents the biggest regulatory shake-up 
to telecommunications providers in almost two decades.

   The new rules require that any company providing a broadband connection to 
your home or phone must act in the "public interest" and refrain from using 
"unjust or unreasonable" business practices. The goal is to prevent providers 
from striking deals with content providers like Google, Netflix or Twitter to 
move their data faster.

   "Today is a red-letter day for Internet freedom," said FCC Chairman Tom 
Wheeler, whose remarks at Thursday's meeting frequently prompted applause by 
Internet activists in the audience.

   President Barack Obama, who had come out in favor of net neutrality in the 
fall, portrayed the decision as a victory for democracy in the digital age. In 
an online letter, he thanked the millions who wrote to the FCC and spoke out on 
social media in support of the change.

   "Today's FCC decision will protect innovation and create a level playing 
field for the next generation of entrepreneurs --- and it wouldn't have 
happened without Americans like you," he wrote.

   Verizon saw it differently, using the Twitter hashtag #ThrowbackThursday to 
draw attention to the FCC's reliance on 1934 legislation to regulate the 
Internet. Likewise, AT&T suggested the FCC had damaged its reputation as an 
independent federal regulator by embracing such a liberal policy.

   "Does anyone really think Washington needs yet another partisan fight? 
Particularly a fight around theInternet, one of the greatest engines of 
economic growth, investment and innovation in history?" said Jim Cicconi, 
AT&T's senior executive vice president for external and legislative affairs.

   Net neutrality is the idea that websites or videos load at about the same 
speed. That means you won't be more inclined to watch a particular show on 
Amazon Prime instead of on Netflix because Amazon has struck a deal with your 
service provider to load its data faster.

   For years, providers mostly agreed not to pick winners and losers among Web 
traffic because they didn't want to encourage regulators to step in and because 
they said consumers demanded it. But that started to change around 2005, when 
YouTube came online and Netflix became increasingly popular. On-demand video 
began hogging bandwidth, and evidence surfaced that some providers were 
manipulating traffic without telling consumers.

   By 2010, the FCC enacted open Internet rules, but the agency's legal 
approach was eventually struck down in the courts. The vote Thursday was 
intended by Wheeler to erase any legal ambiguity by no longer classifying the 
Internet as an "information service" but a "telecommunications service" subject 
to Title II of the 1934 Communications Act.

   That would dramatically expand regulators' power over the industry and hold 
broadband providers to the higher standard of operating in the public interest.

   The FCC says it won't apply some sections of Title II, including price 
controls. That means rates charged to customers for Internet access won't be 
subject to preapproval. But the law allows the government to investigate if 
consumers complain that costs are unfair.

   Industry officials and congressional Republicans fought bitterly to stave 
off the new regulations, which they said constitutes dangerous overreach and 
would eventually raise costs for consumers. The broadband industry was expected 
to sue.

   "With years of uncertainty and unintended consequences ahead of us, it falls 
to Congress to step in," said Michael Powell, head of the National Cable and 
Telecommunications Association.

   GOP lawmakers said they would push for legislation, although it was unlikely 
Obama would sign such a bill.

   "Only action by Congress can fix the damage and uncertainty this FCC order 
has inflicted on the Internet," Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., chairman of the Senate 
Commerce Committee, said in a statement.

   Also at stake Thursday was Obama's goal of helping local governments build 
their own fast, cheap broadband. The FCC approved petitions by Chattanooga, 
Tennessee, and Wilson, North Carolina, to override state laws that restrict 
them from expanding their broadband service to neighboring towns.


(KA)


 
 
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