Party line FCC vote OKs 'net neutrality'

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WASHINGTON - A divided Federal Communications Commission has approved new rules meant to prohibit broadband companies from interfering with Internet traffic flowing to their customers.

The 3-2 vote Tuesday marks a major victory for FCC chairman Julius Genachowski, who has spent more than a year trying to craft a compromise.

The FCC's three Democrats voted to pass the rules, while the two Republicans opposed them, calling them unnecessary regulation. The new rules are likely to face intense scrutiny on Capitol Hill once Republicans take over the House. Meanwhile, public interest groups decried the regulations as too weak, particularly for wireless systems.

Known as "net neutrality," the rules prohibit phone and cable companies from favoring or discriminating against Internet content and services, such as those from rivals.

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The rules require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks - including online calling services, Internet video and other Web applications that compete with their core businesses. But the rules give broadband providers flexibility to manage data on their systems to deal with problems such as network congestion and unwanted traffic including spam as long as they publicly disclose their network management practices.

The regulations prohibit unreasonable network discrimination - a category that FCC officials say would most likely include services that favor traffic from the broadband providers themselves or traffic from business partners that can pay for priority. - AP

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