U.S. communications regulators adopted Internet traffic rules on Tuesday that prevent providers from blocking lawful content but still let them ration access to their networks. Operators may still legally institute policy control and traffic management, but prioritizing that traffic based on content is against the FCC's order.
The Federal Communications Commission approved the "Open Internet" order after Chairman Julius Genachowski's plan got the support of fellow Democrats Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn.
The rules aim to strike a balance between the interests of Web service providers, content companies and consumers. At issue is whether regulators need to guarantee that all stakeholders continue to have reasonable access to the Internet, a principle often called "net neutrality," or whether the Internet is best left to flourish unregulated.
The two Republican commissioners at the agency opposed the measure saying it was unnecessary and would stifle innovation. Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker told an FCC open meeting that they believed the rules would fail in court.
High-speed Internet providers like Comcast Corp and Verizon Communications can "reasonably" manage their networks under the rules and perhaps charge consumers based on levels of Internet usage.
The rules, to be somewhat looser for wireless Internet, could help cable companies in competition with plans by Microsoft Corp, Google Inc and Amazon.com to deliver competing video content over the same Internet lines the cable companies run to customers' homes.
The decision has not been well received by either side of the debate, and vocal opposition has cropped up not only from opponents, but from net neutrality backers as well, upset over compromises in the rules.
FCC Commissioner Robert McDowell called it one of the "darkest days in recent FCC history," a statement that should come as no surprise given his position. However, Sascha Meinrath of the New America Foundation also expressed disapproval: "Despite promising to fulfill President Obama's campaign promise of enacting Network Neutrality rules to protect an open Internet, the FCC has instead prioritized the profits of corporations like AT&T over those of the general public, Internet entrepreneurs, and local businesses across the country."
Some industry analysts believe a court challenge to the constitutionality of the rules is still likely.