The Federal Communications Commission (FCC), a government agency with independent status, voted to adopt an ineffective set of Net Neutrality rules yesterday after more than a year of negotiations with the various parties concerned. The five-member commission’s two Democrats voted with its chairman, Julius Genachowski, in favour of the new rules, while its two Republicans voted against, arguing that only Congress should be able to determine whether and how the Internet is regulated. Genachowski insisted that the new rules defended two essential principles: transparent management of the Internet by Internet Service Providers and a ban on any discrimination in the transmission of content. “Consumers and innovators have a right to send and receive lawful Internet traffic , to go where they want and say what they want online, and to use the devices of their choice,” he said. But the ban on discrimination is limited to content deemed to be “lawful,” leaving the door open to the filtering of “unlawful” websites and the blocking of peer-to-peer transmission. ISPs also continue to able to reach deals with commercial content providers that allow them to deliver their content faster, as Verizon and Google have done (http://en.rsf.org/online-discrimination-in-the-06-08-2010,38103.html). The new rules could also mean the end of unlimited Internet access for the American public and its replacement by payment based on consumption. The FCC is encouraging ISPs to charge according to usage. This would mean, for example, that someone who spends a great deal of time playing online video games, thereby consuming a lot of bandwidth, would pay more than someone who just uses the Internet for email. Genachowski does not see this as undermining the principle of Net Neutrality. President Barack Obama also welcomed the new rules. “Today's decision will help preserve the free and open nature of the Internet while encouraging innovation, protecting consumer choice, and defending free speech,” Obama said. But Free Press, a non-profit group that defends Net Neutrality, said it was disappointed. “After a year of promises to champion real Net Neutrality, this chairman just pushed through a rule that heavily favours the industry his agency is supposed to regulate, leaving Internet users with minimal protections,” it said. Free Press also criticized the FCC’s decision to apply few of the rules to wireless Internet providers, which have begun to clog the Internet since the development of smartphones. “This proceeding was a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet’s level playing field and protect consumers,” Free Press added. Acceptance of the FCC’s rules by the Internet industry is also in doubt. If the big Internet companies are not satisfied, they could file lawsuits challenging the FCC’s authority to regulate broadband Internet and some politicians would back them.