In what has to be the most politically divided vote at the Federal Communications Commission since the Sirius/XM merger of nearly seven years ago, the government agency passed new Net Neutrality rules on Thursday, a victory for open-Internet activists and the defeat of ISPs and telecoms, notably Verizon, AT&T, and Comcast.
The three-to-two vote came among party lines: Democrats Mignon Clyburn, Jessica Rosenworcel, and Chairman Tom Wheeler voted for the rules; Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly voted against.
Net Neutrality prevents companies against discriminating content over another and creating “fast lanes” to deliver content over someone else. To pull this off, the FCC reclassified the Internet as a “Title II” carrier, regulating it the same as a landline telephone line, and becomes a public utility like gas, water, and electricity. In other words, everyone streams Hulu and Netflix at the same streams.
Predictably, the Net Neutrality became a political partisan issue (much like abortion, affirmative action, etc.) as the rhetoric hit a fever pitch – especially after President Obama got involved, urging the FCC to reclassify the Internet as Title II. The winners and losers fell into the usual political camps: those praising the decision include unions, tech companies (such as Netflix and Amazon), minorities, and consumer groups, while those lambasting the decision were free-market advocates, the telecom industry, and the National Cable Telecommunications Association, whose Chairman (Michael Powell) is a former FCC Chairman.
As far the media industry goes, most Hollywood studios, broadcast groups, and the National Association of Broadcasters stayed silent on the issue (probably a wise thing.) But the Writers Guild of America praised the ruling, with The Killing showrunner Veena Sud testifying before the FCC on why open Internet should be preserved.
Meanwhile, Republicans vow to fight the ruling, passing legislation (with or without Democrats) to block the new rules. However, President Obama is expected to veto any piece of legislation doing so. Telecom companies are likely to legally challenge the implementation of rules, with the battle likely winding up in front of the U.S. Supreme Court.
In other words, the fight over Net Neutrality is far from over.