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FCC approves landmark net neutrality policy

Proponents of net neutrality have been on a bit of a political roller coaster, but as of today, the ride ended right where they wanted it to.
A person man uses a laptop. (Karl-Josef Hildenbrand/dpa/AP)
A person man uses a laptop.
Proponents of net neutrality have been on a bit of a political roller coaster over the last couple of years, but as of today, the ride ended right where they wanted it to.

After more than a year of heated public debate, the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday passed "net neutrality" rules: They allow the agency to prohibit Internet service providers from granting faster access to companies that pay for the privilege. The new rules treat broadband providers as "common carriers" under Title II of the Telecommunications Act -- the same category as utility companies that provide gas, electricity, etc. -- in which all customers have equal access to service.

The policy shift was set in motion by President Obama, who, just a week after the 2014 midterms, announced a bold move on net neutrality. The president, a longtime champion of the policy, endorsed the "strongest possible rules" to protect net neutrality and urged the FCC to reclassify consumer broadband service to be regulated more like a public utility.
Earlier this month, the FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler signaled a willingness to do exactly that, leading to today's vote from commission members. Predictably, the FCC was split along party lines -- the three Democratic members voted for it, the two Republican members opposed it.
Timothy B. Lee added, "Consistent with longstanding practice, the FCC did not release its proposal in advance of today's vote.... However, the agency has released a four-page fact sheet describing its major provisions. And it reads like a wishlist for network neutrality activists."
And then, of course, there are net neutrality's many opponents among GOP lawmakers.
The irony is, Republicans, especially at the national level, keep wooing Silicon Valley. As the L.A. Times reported a couple of weeks ago, it's a tough sell.

As tech firms and cable companies prepare for a fight that each says will shape the future of the Internet, Silicon Valley executives and activists are growing increasingly irritated by the feeling that the GOP is not on their side. [...] [T]he hot issue in Silicon Valley now is net neutrality. And on that issue, the GOP and the tech industry are mostly out of step.... "It is close to a litmus test," said Paul Sieminski, a Republican who is the general counsel to Automattic, the company that operates Web-making tool "It's such a fundamental issue for the Internet," said Sieminski, who has been active in fighting for net neutrality. "I guess it is a proxy on where a candidate may stand on a lot of issues related to the Internet."

Kevin Drum added that Republicans' reflexive opposition to the policy is "eroding any chance they had of appealing to the growing tech industry, which is going to be even more firmly in the Democratic camp after this."