The Federal Communications Commission passed its first-ever regulation of the Internet today, in a net neutrality compromise that saw its 3-2 vote split sharply along party lines.
The full text of the new regulations will not be published until later this week, but the broad strokes of the deal are now known. There will be two sets of regulations governing the way an Internet service provider is allowed to control your access, depending on whether you are accessing the Net wirelessly or via a landline.
Broadband service providers will be forbidden from blocking access to any legal Internet sites and services from any "unreasonable" discrimination against data. In real-world terms, this means ISPs will not be allowed to slow traffic on a website -- say, YouTube -- that competes with a service they offer.
Providers will be allowed greater leeway in how to manage their networks. For instance, they will be allowed to charge websites more for faster access but will also be forced to disclose how they are handling the traffic on those networks.
The Internet you reach on your smart phone, however, will be a comparatively lawless -- but potentially less consumer friendly -- landscape. Wireless providers, subject to stricter bandwidth requirements than their broadband brethren, have been given more more control over the data traffic on their networks. While the same rules against blocking websites apply to them, mobile providers will be allowed to block any applications they desire, except ones that provide voice and video service. (Good news for Skype!)
The lax regulations on mobile data have drawn fiery criticism from the left. As Minnesota Sen. Al Franken argued this weekend on the Senate floor:
If the FCC passes this weak rule, Verizon will be able to cut off access to the Google Maps app on your phone and force you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it is not as good. And even if they charge money, when Google Maps is free.While President Barack Obama praised the new regulations, congressional Republicans have (unsurprisingly) argued that they represent an unwelcome expansion of the federal government's power. Rep. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas have separately introduced legislation to combat the new regulations.
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