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Breaking news: In historic vote, FCC restores net neutrality protections 

In a 3-2 vote,  the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Thursday voted to restore “net neutrality” internet consumer protections.

“The action we take here is good for consumers, public safety, national security and network investment,” FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said ahead of the vote. 

Rosenworcel added that the COVID pandemic showed the absolute necessity of a broadband connection for school, work and health care. “It became clear that no matter who you are or where you live, you need broadband to have a fair shot at digital-age success,” she said. “It went from nice to have, to need to have for everyone, everywhere. Broadband is now an essential service and essential services are ones we count on in every aspect of modern life to have some basic oversight.”

The FCC first passed net neutrality protections in 2015 under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler. But the commission, under new leadership, Chairman Ajit Pai, killed those safeguards in 2017. The rules approved Thursday treat broadband as an essential telecommunications service under Title II of the federal Communications Act. It would prohibit internet companies like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from blocking or throttling internet traffic or selling “fast lanes” that prioritize some traffic over others.

The final rules have not been published yet, but, reportedly, they are not that much different than the draft rules released earlier this month. However, there was at least one key change: Language on throttling was strengthened to make it clear that speeding up certain traffic would also violate net neutrality rules.

CUB recently sent the FCC a petition signed by 1,273 supporters in favor of net neutrality. “Net Neutrality is about fairness. Without these protections, companies could throttle or block services, or sell ‘Internet fast lanes,'” the petition said, in part. “This is a pocketbook issue: If website operators like Amazon are forced to pay internet companies more for such ‘fast lanes,’ they could charge us more for services.” Thank you to everyone who signed the petition!

Consumer advocates applauded the FCC’s vote.

“Access to a fast, reliable, and affordable internet connection is more essential to Americans than ever,” Justin Brookman, director for technology policy at Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “Broadband is a telecommunications service and should be regulated as such. The Title II authority will ensure that broadband providers are properly overseen by the FCC like all telecommunications services should be. Whether it is throttling content, junk or hidden fees, arbitrary pricing, deceptive advertising or unreliable service, broadband providers have proven over the years that without proper oversight, they will not hesitate to use their power to increase profits at the expense of consumers.”

The new rules are expected to be challenged in court. So while Thursday’s vote was a historic step in the right direction, it won’t be the end of the fight for a free and fair internet.