The Federal Communications Commission has released its new net neutrality rules, which prohibit broadband providers from favoring one content provider over another.
The rules run to 313 pages and are largely impenetrable to the lay reader, but even after all that verbiage, they largely leave it up to the commission to decide most issues on a case-by-case basis.
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said the four million emails and letters the commission got from citizens shows how important the Internet is to individuals, businesses and government.
"Broadband networks are the most powerful and pervasive connectivity in history. Broadband is reshaping our economy and recasting the patterns of our lives," Wheeler said in a prepared statement. "Every day, we rely on high-speed connectivity to do our jobs, access entertainment, keep up with the news, express our views, and stay in touch with friends and family."
Wheeler said the new rules, which reclassify high-speed Internet as a telecommunications rather than information service, will protect the open nature of the Internet while ensuring that all users are treated fairly and will not be burdensome to businesses and individual users.
"There are three simple keys to our broadband future. Broadband networks must be fast. Broadband networks must be fair. Broadband networks must be open," Wheeler said. He said the new rules will:
Ban Paid Prioritization: “Fast lanes” will not divide the Internet into “haves” and “have-nots.”
Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.
Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
"These enforceable, bright-line rules assure the rights of Internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission," Wheeler said.
Critics say the rules are unnecessary and go too far in defining what may and may not be done by broadband providers.
"As a member of Congress and a businessman for over 30 years, I strongly oppose FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s unprecedented plan to reclassify the Internet as a public utility," said Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) in a recent Fox News commentary.
"A massive layer of government regulation — 332 pages to be exact — not only threatens the online freedoms enjoyed by Americans across the country but stifles the innovation and entrepreneurship that is the lifeblood of the digital economy," Buchanan said.
Not so, said Kit Walsh of the Electronic Freedom Foundation.
"Everyone in the net neutrality debate applauds the diversity of the Internet and low barriers to entry for Internet services. Net neutrality is about preventing the companies that connect you to the Internet from acting as gatekeepers and threatening that diversity and opportunity for innovation," Walsh said in on the EFF's website.
"The FCC's net neutrality regulations will help make sure that ISPs don't unfairly favor (or disfavor) some applications and services, just as its common carrier obligations helped ensure that phone carriers couldn't strangle the Internet in its infancy, back in the days of dial-up modems."
Walsh said telecommunications companies have been "working hard to seed fear, uncertainty, and doubt" about the new rules.
Walsh also noted that while the full order implementing the rules runs to more than 300 pages, the actual rules themselves are only eight pages. See for yourself -- read the full text here.