The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) [official website] voted 3-2 Tuesday in favor of new rules to allow the government to regulate Internet traffic. The so-called net neutrality [JURIST news archive] rules, proposed [JURIST report] by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski [official profile] earlier this month, would prevent Internet providers from selectively blocking web access. The regulations would require transparency of Internet broadband networks to help consumers make better decisions about services, preserve open access to all lawful Internet content and protect freedom of speech in the "marketplace of ideas" online. Genachowski said [press release, PDF]:
The open Internet is a crucial American marketplace, and I believe that it is appropriate for the FCC to safeguard it by adopting an Order that will establish clear rules to protect consumers' access. The Commission has worked tirelessly to offer a set of guidelines that, while not as strong as they could be, will nonetheless protect consumers as they explore, learn, and innovate online.Supporters of net neutrality have argued the rules do not go far enough, while opponents have called them unnecessary. The regulations may be blocked by Congress, and legal challenges are expected [WSJ report].
The FCC has long been trying to exert more control over Internet regulation. In July, US Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC) [official website] introduced legislation [text, PDF; JURIST report] intended to block the FCC from implementing its National Broadband Plan [official website; materials]. The Freedom for Consumer Choice Act would remove the FCC's ability to declare the actions of a communications provider illegal unless there was a clear showing that the practice causes harm to consumers and will not be corrected by market forces. A month earlier, the FCC opened a new proceeding [JURIST report] to identify the legal approach that will best support its efforts to develop universal access to "high quality" Internet broadband services. A previous court ruling [JURIST report] found that the FCC lacks the power to enforce net neutrality. Net neutrality is thought by supporters to be essential to the goal of an open flow of information over the Internet regardless of the amount of revenue generated by the information. Telecommunications companies Verizon, AT&T and Comcast [corporate websites] argue that net neutrality would inhibit their ability to effectively manage Internet traffic.