US regulators have approved landmark Internet rules that would prevent broadband providers from separating online traffic into slow and fast lanes. The Federal Communications Commission’s 3-2 vote in favour of so-called “net neutrality” followed an intense debate in Washington, pitting backers of online services like Netflix, Twitter and Yelp against big Internet service providers like AT&T and Verizon.
FCC chairman Tom Wheeler said the plan would foster a free and open Internet where broadband services cannot be “gatekeepers” for what is available online. The plan unveiled earlier by Wheeler regulates broadband Internet service providers as “public utility” carriers, revamping the agency’s rules struck down by a federal court in 2014. In response to a court decision which said it lacked authority, the FCC reclassified Internet service providers as “common carriers” under a 1934 telecom law, while promising to steer clear of rate regulation and other provisions of that law.
The new rule also applies the concept to mobile Internet carriers, preventing them from blocking or throttling content for competitive reasons.
The plan also prohibits service providers from blocking lawful content or slowing one service such as streaming video operator Netflix, to support a rival like Hulu.