FCC Releases Open Internet Order

13 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Document Drop: FCC reveals the full text of open Internet rules for net neutrality.

The Federal Communications Commission posted the full text of its open Internet plan online Thursday, putting on full display the agency’s net neutrality ruling approved 3-2 last month.

As promised, the rules start by putting net neutrality on the right legal footing, which means they have a much stronger chance of surviving the inevitable legal challenge. The lengthy, 400-page document, details how the agency reclassifies both wired and mobile broadband Internet as a utility “telecommunications service,” which regulates it similarly to traditional phone lines.

The uncertainty in some of the rules, released in full for the first time Thursday, reflects in part the fast-changing nature of the Internet and the agency’s lack of experience in areas that it now has the power to oversee. By classifying providers in this way, the FCC gives itself more power to mandate that providers treat all traffic flowing across their networks more or less equally. The rules ban paid prioritization, which is the idea of an Internet service provider (ISP), such as Time Warner Cable, charging a content provider, such as Netflix, for better access to consumers over another content provider that does not pay up.

A highly public dispute over network pricing last year helped nudge into the mainstream the debate over net neutrality—the principle that all Internet traffic should be treated equally. Providers may not prioritize certain services or applications over others, nor may they create “fast lanes” for those companies willing to pay to have their content delivered to consumers faster.

The full 400 pages of the FCC’s policy and research on net neutrality aren’t exactly beach reading, but the minutia are integral to the rules’ lifespan. But the FCC says in the rules that it won’t be jumping in right away, because it lacks experience in evaluating such deals. “We find that the best approach is to watch, learn, and act as required, but not intervene now, especially not with prescriptive rules,” the commission wrote in the rules.

This evenhanded treatment of Internet traffic is what’s meant by the term “net neutrality.” What’s most surprising about the bill is the extent to which the FCC won’t regulate providers. These are the nitpicky things that big cable companies plan to challenge in court, the things that Republicans in Congress will use as ammunition to strip the agency of its power to regulate the internet.

The rules, for example, give the FCC new powers to oversee “interconnection” deals between companies like Netflix Inc. and Internet service providers like Verizon Communications Inc., common arrangements that let companies share network traffic. Title II allows it to take measures such as setting retail rates and even mandating that providers lease (or “unbundle”) portions of their networks to competitors. Their aim is to protect the open Internet, advancing principles of so-called Net neutrality by prohibiting broadband providers from elevating one kind of content over another. The regulator is taking a similarly uncertain stance on sponsored data programs—ones where content companies like Google Inc. could pay the cost of data so their services could be delivered to mobile users free. For example, an ISP cannot degrade customers’ access to services that compete with its own offerings and cannot charge tolls to privilege traffic from one web service over others.

Critics say such plans give an advantage to deep-pocketed companies that can afford the cost at the expense of startups or other weaker rivals. “Given the unresolved debate concerning the benefits and drawbacks of data allowances and usage-based pricing plans, we decline to make blanket findings about these practices,” the commission said. The FCC also listened to our advice to forbear from applying numerous aspects of its authority, aspects that are not necessary to address the critical but narrow problems posed by ISP gatekeepers. The order also does not make specific rules about interconnect points – the places at which the networks of content providers meet those of broadband providers, such as Comcast and Verizon. The new rules could produce tension between the FCC and the Federal Trade Commission, which has historically been charged with protecting consumers’ privacy online.

Last year, Netflix paid large sums to both of those companies to be able to hook directly into their networks, bypassing the Internet backbone and avoiding congestion. Today’s order creates no new taxes or fees, although there is a possibility those will emerge following subsequent hearings and rulemaking regarding disabilities access or a universal service fund to expand broadband coverage. With respect to privacy, the FCC is not forbearing from protecting consumer privacy, but wisely will not import existing rules relating to phone service privacy to broadband providers.

Some question whether the FCC, which has not requested an increase to its legal budget for next year, has the capacity to manage and adjudicate one-time petitions. The order does allow broadband providers to prioritize traffic in the interest of “reasonable network management,” but it imposed strict rules concerning what is and is not “reasonable.” Throttling an application that is slowing down network access for everyone during peak hours might be considered reasonable. Last week, Representative Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, introduced a bill in the House, with 19 original cosponsors, to limit the FCC’s authority and undo its new rules. AT&T criticized the order on the grounds that it could disincentivize companies from improving Internet access for their customers. “Unfortunately, the order released today begins a period of uncertainty that will damage broadband investment in the United States,” AT&T executive Jim Cicconi wrote in a statement. “Ultimately, though, we are confident the issue will be resolved by bipartisan action by Congress or a future FCC, or by the courts.” The commission was careful to write its rules so that they wouldn’t quickly become outdated as technologies evolve, said Kevin Werbach, a professor of legal studies at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School who has advised the FCC on open Internet policies. “It’s a reasonable and logical approach given the degree of uncertainty about what is going to happen in the marketplace,” Mr.

The rule does lay out factors that will help guide the analysis of whether a given practice violates the rules, such as the effect on innovation, free expression, and end-user control. Indeed, today’s order punts many difficult questions to the general conduct rule, which applies whenever conduct doesn’t fall into one of the three categories of blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization, and also applies to all disputes relating to interconnection (ISP deals with other Internet infrastructure companies). The expense and expertise to raise and respond to issues on that basis could tilt the process in favor of big and established players, like major ISPs and content providers. Unfortunately, the FCC has maintained the “lawful content” limitation, and gone farther to state that it does not intend “to prohibit or discourage voluntary practices undertaken to address or mitigate the occurrence of copyright infringement.” The danger of this limitation has already been demonstrated.

While it’s a very good idea for users to protect themselves with such tools, that shouldn’t be their only protection against the very companies they are forced to trust in order to gain access to the Internet – particularly when ISPs like Verizon have gone to extreme measures to circumvent users’ privacy controls. For example, T-Mobile zero-rates certain music services and Facebook and Wikipedia have a variety of deals around the world creating zero-rated access to their services. We recognize the value of providing low-income users with access to knowledge and the ability to interconnect, but these objectives are better achieved by promoting competition and removing access barriers to neutral Internet access. The rules will likely withstand the inevitable court challenges, and their bright-line prohibitions on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization will go a long way towards protecting Internet users.

Here you can write a commentary on the recording "FCC Releases Open Internet Order".

* Required fields
All the reviews are moderated.
Our partners
Follow us
Contact us
Our contacts


ICQ: 423360519

About this site