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Net Neutrality Passes, Eliminating Broadband Restrictions

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.


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Comments about Net Neutrality Passes, Eliminating Broadband Restrictions
(Comments are closed.)

Tom A.  2015-02-26 18:23
I just don't understand how you can claim that it's a good thing for the government to interfere in the free market system, and then note that we haven't even seen the new rules. How do you possibly know what they're doing? ("Don't worry -- I'm from the government and I'm here to help." )

I guess you view this as another "we have to pass the law so we can find out what's in it" situation.

Sorry, I don't think that ever works out well.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-02-26 18:46
Regulation was coming one way or the other, and this is probably the least awful option. However, I think eliminating the state-level restrictions is a very good thing.

I share your skepticism. If you've read my previous article or follow me on Twitter, I've been pretty critical of the regulation. I think ultimately competition is the only solution.
tom powers  2015-03-04 11:52
Of course the government needs to "interfere" with the "free market system," because a free market system doesn't exist in monopolistic systems, whether natural or contrived. Telecommunications is almost always a monopolistic system because of the scarcity of telecommunications media. Broadcast bandwidth is limited by frequency bandwidth requirements. Cable/wire-based systems are limited by physical infrastructure. The core of 'network neutrality' needs to be separation of content and service provision from communications media, and by required, non-interfering interworking of service providers. Decades ago, your Bell System phone could talk to a GTE network phone unencumbered by business interests. Your Verizon iPhone can still talk to a Sprint Android phone. But if allowed to, your XXXX ISP would like to control your access to Netflix.
Historical reference: Look up how the Strowger switch came to be invented.
Jim Johnston  2015-02-26 19:10
"The good news is that the FCC has voted, 3 to 2, in favor"

If you think this is good news, you haven't paid attention to what has happened to quality of service and jobs in Interstate Trucking, Education, Healthcare, International Shipping and Shipbuilding, Agriculture, Manufactur Opening a bank account in another country, etc.,etc, etc.

The market would have solved this issue of consumers wanting something for nothing or "free" over time much better than more government regulations.
Josh Centers  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2015-02-26 20:34
I removed the "good news" bit from the article. That was a mistake on my part. It was less of a celebration of the Open Internet Order, and more of a framing device, as in "We have net neutrality, but we don't know what it is!" So my apologies for that.

I think we've been more neutral, and even critical, of the FCC's proposal than any other tech site (some are practically throwing parties for it). My previous piece (linked in the last paragraph) is quite critical of it, and here I pointed out that the actual rules haven't been published and pondered the possibility of loopholes.

And frankly, if you think that net neutrality is a government takeover of the Internet, then you need to go back and read my Keeping Up with the Snoops series. The federal government has as much control as it wants; it doesn't need the FCC for that.
M Chasman  2015-02-27 08:09
Obama never has as much control as he wants.
Dennis B. Swaney  2015-03-02 21:13
Lèse-majesté. King Barack is NOT amused.