By Elizabeth Holland
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today to adopt strict new rules for Internet providers, protecting net neutrality by reclassifying the Internet as a public utility. Under the new rules, broadband Internet service will be regulated under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The rules lay out several key prohibitions on Internet Service Providers (ISPs), including banning ISPs from blocking or slowing down (“throttling”) web traffic or speeding it up in exchange for money (“paid prioritization”), and will apply to both fixed and wireless carriers. The Commission voted to adopt the rules along party lines 3-2, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.
AALL commends the FCC on this historic vote, which echoes our July comments to the Commission. Together with the Association of Academic Health Sciences Libraries, the Medical Library Association, and the Special Libraries Association, AALL urged the FCC to pursue reclassification under Title II, while exercising forbearance for regulations in the Communications Act that are not pertinent to contemporary Internet service, are costly, or are burdensome. “Law libraries rely on net neutrality to fulfill their duty to provide nondiscriminatory access to online legal content. Reclassifying the Internet under Title II…will ensure that law libraries are able to provide equal access to the Internet and that everyone – whether a researcher, attorney, self-represented litigant, small business owner, or student – has a consistent and reliable way of accessing information online,” AALL President Holly M. Riccio said in a statement.
The new rules reflect more than a year of deliberation by the FCC and a surprising about-face by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, a former cable industry lobbyist, whose initial proposal was much friendlier to ISPs. Internet Service Providers are likely to challenge the new Open Internet Order in the courts, while Congressional Republicans are seeking a legislative solution to undermine the FCC’s authority. Still, today’s vote is a significant victory for open Internet advocates and a strong signal of the Commission’s intent to protect net neutrality to the best of its ability.