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FCC Approves New Rules Intended To Protect Open Internet


The Federal Communications Commission voted today to regulate Internet access more like a public utility, the vote split 3-2 along party lines. As NPR's Joel Rose reports, the vote reflects deep divisions over the future of the Internet.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called it an historic vote.


TOM WHEELER: The action that we take today is an irrefutable reflection of the principle that no one, whether government or corporate, should control free and open access to the Internet.

ROSE: The rules approved today prevent phone and cable companies from blocking or slowing any traffic on their networks, even that of their competitors. The rules also banned special Internet fast lanes for companies that can afford to pay extra to reach consumers more quickly, according to Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.


MIGNON CLYBURN: We are here to ensure that there is only one Internet where applications, new products, ideas and points of view have an equal chance of being seen and heard.

ROSE: Today's vote was a resounding defeat for big broadband and it was nearly impossible to imagine a year ago an appeals court had just struck down the FCC's last set of net neutrality rules, and the Commission seemed poised to adopt more limited regulations. Then, the agency was flooded with public comments, said Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.


JESSICA ROSENWORCEL: Four million Americans wrote this agency, they lit up our phone lines, clogged our email inboxes and jammed our online comment system.

ROSE: Many of those commenters expressed support for reclassifying Internet access under Title II of the Communications Act, in effect, regulating it more like telephone service and other public utilities. That idea got a major boost in November, when President Obama publicly expressed his support. But Republicans in Congress and on the FCC call that political interference from the White House.

AJIT PAI: President Obama's plan to regulate the Internet is not the solution to a problem. His plan is the problem.

ROSE: Commissioner Ajit Pai says it's a mistake for the FCC to move away from decades of lightly regulating Internet service providers.

PAI: The Commission's decision to adopt President Obama's plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works.

WHEELER: Nonsense.

ROSE: Chairman Tom Wheeler, a Democrat, insisted the Commission will take a light touch approach by not enforcing many parts of Title II and that there is no secret plan to, quote, "regulate the Internet."

WHEELER: This is no more a plan to regulate the Internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech.

ROSE: Still, Republican dissenters warned that the new rules could lead a future FCC to set caps on what broadband providers can charge. Commissioner Michael O'Reilly says that will make it harder for those companies to raise money on Wall Street.

MICHAEL O'REILLY: I see no need for net neutrality rules. I am far more troubled by the dangerous course that the Commission is now charting on Title II and the consequences it will have for future broadband investment.

ROSE: Big phone and cable companies seem to agree. Verizon released its statement in Morse code to poke fun at what it called antiquated regulations that were originally designed for the telephone monopoly. There is little dispute about what happens next. These rules are likely headed for a lengthy legal challenge, one that could play out during the next presidential election season, and maybe beyond. Joel Rose, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.

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