The FCC has voted, 3 to 2, in favor of adopting the Open Internet Order, which reclassifies broadband Internet service as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act (for background, see “FCC Goes All-In on Net Neutrality,” 7 February 2015). The FCC also voted to overturn certain state restrictions on municipal broadband networks.
The actual rules have not yet been released publicly, and it could be several days before we know the details. For now, all we have to go by is the FCC’s press release, which summarizes the new rules.
The main provisions are the so-called “Bright Line Rules,” which ban three practices that the FCC said harm the open Internet. To quote:
No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind — in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
In addition, the rules give the FCC the power to act as a referee between broadband providers and customers, and require broadband providers to disclose promotional rates, fees, surcharges, and data caps in a consistent format. Additionally, the FCC will also act as a referee for interconnection disputes between broadband providers and content providers.
While broadband providers are now technically subject to Title II regulations, there are a few that will not apply, such as rate regulation and Universal Service Fund contributions. Also, broadband service will remain exempt from state and local taxation.
One interesting thing I noticed about the wording of the press release is that the FCC prefers the term “broadband providers” over “Internet service providers.” Given that the FCC recently redefined broadband as transfer speeds of 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up, could that mean that slower Internet connections are not covered?
One thing is for sure: the telecommunication companies are hopping mad. Verizon released an angry press release condemning the vote in Morse code, with a translated version appearing to be drafted with a typewriter. The press release, mockingly dated 26 February 1934, claims that the Internet now falls under rules from the 1930s.
There is little doubt that major telecom firms will sue. The Republican Congress isn’t pleased either, but for the most part, it has conceded to the Obama administration. However, some Republicans are still looking to push forward with a bill that would bring some new broadband regulations, but would also defang the FCC on Internet matters.
The FCC also voted to preempt laws in Tennessee and North Carolina that prevented municipalities from expanding their broadband networks (I discussed these in “Net Neutrality Controversy Overshadows U.S. Broadband Woes,” 19 February 2015). However, this move does not affect the 18 remaining states with similar laws.