The FCC Has FINALLY Released Its Net Neutrality Internet Regulations

12 Mar 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Critics attack FCC as it releases new rules to protect net neutrality.

The FCC followed through on its promise to release a massive document laying out its new rules for net neutrality. After more than a month of heated debate between regulators, lawmakers, companies and interest groups, the FCC on Thursday finally released the net neutrality Internet regulations the agency voted to adopt two weeks ago.

Two weeks after it voted to approve rules on net neutrality, the Federal Communications Commission has released the full text of the Open Internet Order. The 313-page document is now being scrutinised by an army of communications lawyers as the cable and telecoms industry considers whether – or more likely when – to sue the regulator in the hopes of over-turning the new rules.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler calls it “a shining example of American democracy at work.” The new FCC rules apply “to both fixed and mobile broadband Internet access service,” according to the rules. The two Republican commissioners who cast the dissenting votes said that the FCC was inappropriately interfering in commerce to solve a problem that doesn’t exist—a charge that Republican legislators have vowed to carry forward by trying to roll back the FCC’s ruling. Under Wheeler’s “21st century” Title II, the FCC will regulate ISPs essentially as public utilities, and bar them from segregating or blocking Internet content, establishing fast and slow lanes for web traffic or requiring Internet content creators to set up special deals and pay higher prices for acceptable transmission speeds.

The agency says that in the past five years, the number of devices in the U.S. that can use high-speed LTE data networks has grown from 70,000 to more than 127 million. As researchers studying the impact of digital media on children’s learning and development, we welcome the FCC’s action—and not just because it protects fair access to the world’s information. Those protections lay the groundwork for the success of efforts aimed at resolving inequalities that low-income U.S. families face when it comes to access to, and meaningful engagement with, broadband and digital technologies Our research indicates that digital inequality remains a critical issue for low-income families with school-age children—and that resolving it has potential to solve real problems that do exist. A quick read of the document indicates that it hews to what the FCC originally outlined in a summary that was publicly released before the commission voted on the rules.

So it is sad to witness the FCC’s unprecedented attempt to replace that freedom with government control.” Service providers, their lobbyists and Republicans on Capitol Hill have criticized the order as a massive government overreach, which they allege threatens to destroy market competition and slow Internet infrastructure investment into network growth and innovation. The rules reclassify high-speed Internet as a telecommunications service rather than an information one, subjecting providers to stricter regulation under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934. However, policymakers and education reformers still have limited understandings of why and how technology investments can be a game changer for under-served students.

Despite the aggressive nature of the plan, which in Wheeler’s own words represents “the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC,” the chairman elected to follow FCC protocol and released the rules after the vote. “We listened. But for an administrative agency, 14 months from start to finish in a major and complex proceeding — the order is more than 280 pages long — is pretty quick. The outlines of the rules were already clear but both supporters and critics had called for an early release of the hefty report in order to scrutinise the details. With the FCC set to decide on matters individually, the agency moves into a new position of prominence and a more active controlling role, one that is widely expected to be challenged in court by broadband providers like Verizon.

We interviewed more than 300 parents and their school-age children who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch and therefore for reduced-cost broadband access through a national digital equity program. Outside of a sure challenge in federal court — where ISPs beat the FCC last January over utility-style regulation — the House and Senate committees that oversee the FCC are working to gain support for a bill that would include the protections sought in Wheeler’s plan, without heavy-handed Title II-style regulation. FCC officials sought to address charges that they were imposing “utility-style” regulation on the internet. “The order bars the kinds of tariffing, rate regulation, unbundling requirements and administrative burdens that are the hallmarks of traditional utility regulation. And it notes a shift in Americans’ entertainment habits as an example, stating, “2010 was the first year that the majority of Netflix customers received their video content via online streaming rather than via DVDs in red envelopes. But the issue picked up steam over the last year, with President Barack Obama taking the unusual action of publicly urging the independent agency to take the specific action of subjecting high-speed Internet service providers to Title II regulation.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz is pursing another avenue by investigating whether the White House inappropriately influenced the independent agency’s rules, which include word-for-word polices President Obama called on the FCC to adopt last November. That may or may not be a good thing (surprisingly enough, those who want a given regulation bemoan the lengthy process, and those who don’t want a given regulation applaud it). One-third of families in our Colorado study did not have Internet access at home, revealing that providing them affordable opportunities to get online remains an urgent issue.

But it does mean that completing a major regulation in less than about 18 months is no easy feat, to which the agency has to devote a lot of resources. The agency received more than 4 million public comments, or nearly three times the previous record, reached in response to Janet Jackson’s performance at the 2004 Super Bowl. “Five years ago, who would have heard much of the FCC?” asked Roger Entner, telecommunications expert and lead analyst and founder of Recon Analytics in Boston.

But we also interviewed many families who had made considerable sacrifices—including delaying needed home or car repairs, or forgoing Christmas presents—to afford broadband or to save enough money to purchase iPads, laptops, and smartphones. We need to recalibrate digital equity programs that begin from the premise that poor parents either cannot provide their children access to tech, or are not interested in doing so. 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-off petitions.

One solution: integrate a digital-equity emphasis into the upcoming reauthorization of the nation’s largest federal education program, the Elementary and Secondary Act. Asked at the FCC’s open meeting last month about the broad provisions of the so-called general conduct rule and to clarify what its vague mandates meant, Wheeler conceded that the future was uncertain. “We don’t really know.

Innovative models from informal education leaders like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, should have gold-standard access to broadband, new devices, and adults who can guide children’s skill development. Such opportunities have often been reserved for more privileged children, partly because school-provided technologies usually restrict what students can use those technologies to do. Highly successful school networks, like High Tech High in San Diego and Rocketship Education in the Bay Area, demonstrate the power of disrupting the typical academic fare that low-income youth receive in the “dropout factories” that are all too common, particularly in urban centers across the country.

These innovative schools rely on technology enabled, project-based learning or a flipped classroom, in which kids prepare at home with instructional content online. While most digital-equity programs focus on students and schools—for example, the Obama administration’s ConnectEd program—we need to remember that children’s first teachers are their families.

We also found that children often engage online content with their parents, helping to broker their families’ connections to resources that support their engagement with their adopted environments. The FCC has always been charged with ensuring that Americans have access to information they need to fully participate in civic life; net neutrality is an important part of keeping that promise.

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