On Thursday morning, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted on a new Open Internet policy, grounded by strong federal authority that treats Internet service providers similarly to utilities. Adoption of the new rules -- which prevent ISPs from blocking or slowing any lawful Internet traffic or charging companies like Netflix for faster delivery -- is considered a victory for Net Neutrality advocates.

Broadly speaking, Net Neutrality is the concept that all (legal and otherwise harmless) data traffic from the Internet -- be it apps, services, websites, videos, live streams, or anything else -- should be treated equally and delivered impartially by Internet providers, and all at the speeds consumer pay for in their Internet plan.

Similar Rules, Stronger Foundation and Authority

The new FCC Open Internet policy closely mirrors Net Neutrality's principles requiring ISPs to be transparent in how they handle their networks and banning discrimination, throttling, or "paid prioritization" -- or setting up so-called "fast-lanes" for companies willing and/or capable of paying ISPs extra money for access.

As did the FCC's previous Open Internet rules from 2010. But a U.S. Court of Appeals struck those rules down in January of 2014 because of a rather technical issue: it wasn't grounded in the right kind of legal authority for the FCC to carry out its regulations.

But the court invited the FCC to go back to the drawing board and rewrite the rules with a better legal foundation.

Technically speaking, this meant the FCC reclassifying Internet providers as utility-like "common carriers" under a statute known as "Title II" of the Communications Act of 1934, a legal framework originally governing landline communications through that era's revolutionary technology: the telephone. Previously, the FCC had used "Section 706" of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (itself a set of amendments to the same 1934 law) to regulate ISPs as "information services" -- unsuccessfully, come Verizon's court victory in 2014.

Obscure to Most, "Title II" Hotly Debated

Many ISPs and free market advocates, like Jose Marquez of LISTA in a LatinPost Op Ed this week, fought against reclassification, arguing it would hamper investment and innovation with burdensome, antiquated regulations meant for a different era. They argued instead for a "light touch" approach under Section 706.

But Net Neutrality advocates, like the National Hispanic Media Coalition's Michael Scurato in his Op Ed response exclusively on LatinPost, noted that the FCC proposal included so-called "forbearances" on the outmoded "traditional utility-style" parts of Title II, including rate regulation and tariffing, and argued that even the ISPs most opposed to the new rules have assured investors it ultimately wouldn't affect future investment in their networks.

A Wave of Popular Support

Despite the wonky nature of the Internet policy debate, the FCC's Open Internet policy -- and the push to ensure it instituted Net Neutrality principles with a strong legal foundation -- became a topic of unusual grassroots and individual activity.

Over the summer of 2014, the FCC received nearly 4 million comments from the public, most pro-Net Neutrality, in what became the FCC's most publicly involved policy proposal in its history. The only time more Americans contacted the FCC on a single issue was to complain about Janet Jackson's exposed breast in the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

Such is the nature of the Internet. Its manifest and growing importance makes once-obscure policy decisions a matter of critical importance in the minds of many Americans -- everyday individuals, companies large and small, and even the President.

Cheers rung out from many attending the FCC's proceedings on Thursday after Wheeler declared the Open Internet measure officially adopted. 

(Photo : Cspan)

In the end, the measure was passed by FCC commissioners voting a three to two majority, along party lines, to adopt the historic set of Open Internet regulations -- after a long year of proposals, public outcry, and uncertainty for both sides of what became a particularly contentious and public issue, especially considering its technical, bureaucratic nature.

Next comes the release of the full text of the new policy, followed by inevitable court challenges from major ISPs, declarations for or against from politicians, and the all-important reaction of the market.

But no matter where you stand on the FCC's new Open Internet policy, one thing has become clear over the last year: The Internet -- how it works, who controls it, how it's regulated, and what its future looks to be -- is obviously important enough that everyone should have an informed stance on an issue like this.