Tuesday 12 December 2017

US votes in favour of rules to prevent some firms getting faster internet

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington. Reuters
Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler speaks at the FCC Net Neutrality hearing in Washington. Reuters

Todd Shields

US regulators invoked broad powers to ensure that web traffic for all users is treated equally, adopting net-neutrality rules that supporters say will preserve a wide-open internet and that opponents vow to fight in court.

The measure approved yesterday by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) prohibits companies such as AT&T and Comcast from blocking or slowing online traffic, or offering faster service in return for payment.

It also brings wireless Internet service under the rules.

With the vote, the FCC is seeking to settle more than a decade of debate about whether the internet should be a highway offered to all users on equal terms, or whether broadband providers can levy fees and restrict access.

The previous set of net-neutrality rules passed by the FCC in 2010 was voided by a federal appeals court, sending FCC chaiman Tom Wheeler's agency back to the drawing board.

Ireland has avoided taking an official position on so-called net neutrality but the European parliament voted in favour of the idea recently.

Small business tends to support the notion while established players such as Netflix are against it.

The vote, supported by the three Democratic commissioners and opposed by the two Republicans, enshrines a regulation backed by President Barack Obama. It was opposed by cable and telephone companies, which say the rules risk stifling a fast-growing internet and will lead to rate regulation.

"The landmark open-internet protections that we adopted today should reassure consumers, innovators and financial markets about the broadband future of our nation," said Mr Wheeler, a Democrat appointed by Mr Obama, after the commission voted to cheers from the crowd in its meeting room in Washington DC.

The proposal approved yesterday drew comments to the agency from more than four million people. Republicans in Congress and at the commission opposed Mr Wheeler's plan, saying the chairman had improperly yielded to President Obama's call for strong rules. They didn't let up with the vote.

House Speaker John Boehner said lawmakers would try to stop what he called the FCC's "misguided scheme" that would "put the federal government in control of the internet".

"Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the internet," he said in a statement.

The FCC debated the rules behind closed doors prior to the public meeting, and didn't say when it would release the text. The rules take effect after being published in the Federal Register. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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