WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 26: Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler (C) holds hands with FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn (L) and Jessica Rosenworcel during an open hearing on Net Neutrality at the FCC headquarters February 26, 2015 in Washington, DC. Today the FCC will vote on Net Neutrality seeking to approve regulating Internet service like a public utility, prohibiting companies from paying for faster lanes on the Internet. (Photo : Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Net neutrality advocates can breathe a sigh of relief following the Federal Communication Commission's decision to reclassify broadband Internet as a public utility. It's a win for anyone tired of being given the run-around by large service providers like Verizon, Comcast, and AT&T.
Had these profit-hungry companies gotten their way, an open, equal internet would have been a thing of the past.
Under Net neutrality rules, broadband providers can't impede on your web browsing experience. That means they can't block or slow down your access to services and websites, and they cannot offer "paid prioritization" services, like fast lanes where customers pay extra for better speeds. Fast lanes would force companies like Netflix to pay additional fees which, in turn, increases monthly membership dues.
It's especially troubling given Time Warner and Comcast's rumored merger. The nation's two largest cable operators - both aptly annually ranked among the worst companies for customer service - already monopolize the television landscape. Imagine what they could do with online services.
What Thursday's ruling boils down to is Democrats, consumer advocates, and Internet companies notching a victory over Republicans and large service providers. Consumers are stuck in the middle, thankfully not directly affected thus far. Civil rights groups and grassroots organizers are among those aiming to keep it that way.
"This is a historic day. As people of color we have come to rely on the Open Internet to educate ourselves, organize for social change, engage in the political process and push back against a history of discrimination and exclusion in traditional media," said Jessica J. González, Executive Vice President of the National Hispanic Media Coalition.
"I applaud the FCC majority for sifting through the nonsense arguments of a few Internet service providers and their massive team of lobbyists and siding with the American people for a truly Open Internet."
The NHMC, The Latino Coalition, and The National Association of Hispanic Journalists each voiced strong opinions. NHMC Chairman likened the FCC's to a "cop on the beat' in the broadband era." NAHJ President Mekahlo Medina called it a "history day" resulting from "hard word from Latinos committed to open access without obstacles." Both emphasized how the FCC's ruling benefits Latinos economically, educationally, and politically.
Hispanics compromise about 17 percent of the nation's population as of 2012, according to the Pew Research Center. Study authors expect 40 million Latinos to be eligible to vote by 2030. An open Internet free of corporate interference is crucial to enlightening potential voters as to who they are voting for and what candidates stand for.
Conversely, TLC Chairman Hector Barreto calls Net neutrality burdensome and outdated. "The FCC has successfully taken America backwards by ignoring 15 years of bipartisan policy on this issue," Barreto said in a press release. "Not only will these regulations enormously set technology and innovation back, they will cause market uncertainty and will not support an open Internet that gives equal access to broadband and to all contend and applications on the web."
The battle for an open internet is far from over. Cable companies already have intention of suing the FCC. Republican lawmakers, led by Sen. John Thune (R- S.D.), have expressed fear that similar decisions will lead to over services being unregulated.
Thursday's ruling marks the FCC's second attempt at implementing Open Internet rules, but its first try at grounding it under Title II authority.