By applying the classification of a telecommunications service, the Federal Communications Commission has established a long-term legal framework for internet service providers. They are public utilities and must follow rules that make them responsible to the public like common carriers. On February 26, 2015, a F.C.C. announced its majority decision. The three commissioner majority overcame the opposition that agreed that the internet was open and free but prohibited rules to enforce it. The opposition position would have left it to the ISPs to decide the best interests of consumers. The ISPs would decide if it were in the public interest to develop tracks on the Internet of fast and slow traffic, limit some users access, and exercise control over the content of information and messages that passed over their systems.

The Principle of Fairness

Common carrier theory has been the rough guideline of the FCC approach to regulating ISPs. The need to issue new rules arose as a result of a legal action in which a reviewing court found fault with the procedural steps used by the FCC to make its findings and rules. In the build up to the decision, the FCC received millions of public comments. There was evidence of deep and widespread public concern over the issue of expanding ISP control over Internet traffic.

Public Utility Status Limits Private Control

Among the practices that will not be permitted is priority treatment, in essence to charge for fast delivery and delaying delivery of other information. ISPs will not be able to throttle or block information they do not like, and they must abide by rules requiring transparency. The essential requirement for common carriers on the Internet is to treat every user and their information fairly and equally.

A Division of Views

In the business community, there was a similar division as reflected by the FCC vote; it was a three to two decision along party lines. Supporters included Google and Facebook; many firms rely on Internet usage and do not wish to see the current arrangement changed in any fundamental way. Those seeking an alternate classification and a different regulatory philosophy, point to the lack of an issue-that there are no current problems to fix with respect to net neutrality.

Public Utility-A Proactive Approach

Preserving the open Internet was the central theme of more than four million public comments on the proposed FCC regulations. Clearly, the public expression found the possibility of closing the Internet based on fees and private corporate preferences as a current problem. The potential for control and manipulation is indeed powerful. Users would have little knowledge of or defense against patterned manipulation of information. Similarly, there would be little a consumer could do to object to delayed delivery and demands for fees.

The Internet is a Public Resource

Beneath all of the policy issues is a fundamental concept, namely, that the Internet is a vital public resource. It has become essential to free speech and the free marketplace of ideas. It is an engine for economic growth and innovation. Preserving access and free use of the internet is integral to personal freedom in the information Age. It is significant to note that the FCC will not get involved with rates, services, and price structures. Unlike regulation in the telephone industry, ISP’s continue to be free to determine prices and services.