Divided FCC Adopts Internet Traffic Rules

In its first mandated effort to keep the web equal and open for all users, the Federal Communications Commission approved Tuesday new network neutrality rules that ban Internet service providers from blocking specific content and being unreasonably discriminatory.

The move outraged some carriers that said the government has no place regulating the Internet and cheers from online content providers who applauded the secured freedom.

The new rules, passed in a 3-2 vote, keep ISPs from blocking specific websites and applications and engaging in unlawful, unreasonable discrimination. It also requires all broadband providers to be more transparent by publicly disclosing their network management practices.

“Today, for the first time, the FCC is adopting rules to preserve basic Internet values,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, who was appointed to the committee by President Barack Obama. “Now, for the first time, we’ll have enforceable, high-level rules of the road to preserve Internet freedom and openness.”

The FCC also notes that “pay for priority,” a commercial arrangement between broadband providers and third parties that favors some traffic over others, would raise concerns, potentially causing “great harm to innovating and investment in and on the Internet.” However, it does allow providers to potentially charge subscribers based on broadband usage.

Wireless telecommunications companies were exempt from the packet discrimination rules, allowing wireless companies to decrease some smartphone users’ download and upload speeds, however the FCC noted that it is time to start considering special rules for those carriers.

“Mobile broadband presents special considerations that suggest differences in how and when open Internet protections should apply,” the FCC said, noting it is an “earlier-stage platform than fixed broadband, and it is rapidly evolving.”

The FCC decision has led to varying opinions -- outrage from those who think the government should stay out of net neutrality issues, and applauds from others who believe more extensive and rigid regulations need to be adopted.

Supporters argue that before the rules were passed, Internet service providers like AT&T (NYSE:T), Verizon Communications (NYSE:VZ) and Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) posed a potential threat to online freedom by regulating content, such as videos and other services, owned by tech companies like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN).

DISH Network (NASDAQ:DISH) CEO Charlie Ergen, for example, applauded the FCC for adopting what he called “critically important net neutrality rules,” noting the mandates set a “solid framework for protecting the open Internet” while at the same time giving companies like DISH the ability to invest capital in Internet-related technologies without fear the investment will be “undermined by carriers’ discriminatory practices.”

However carriers like Verizon said the rules make it difficult to manage growing traffic on their networks. In a statement Tuesday, Verizon said it was “deeply concerned” by the decision, noting the ruling breaks with years of bipartisan communications policies that recognized Internet innovation and investment “thrive without government intervention.”

The move follows a public process launched last year by the FCC to determine what actions might be necessary to preserve the characteristics that have allowed the Internet to grow into an “indispensable platform” of supporting the U.S. economy and civic life, as well as “foster continued investment in the physical networks that enable the Internet..”

The commission determined from that review that the Internet thrived on openness and freedom, with the absence of any gatekeeper blocking unlawful uses of the network.

The rules ensure that Internet openness will continue, the FCC said, providing “greater certainty to consumers, innovators, investors, and broadband providers, including the flexibility providers need to effectively manage their networks.”