The Federal Communications Commission may have a fight on its hands early next year as a result of the regulatory board's approval of new network neutrality rules. Republican lawmakers are not happy about the FCC's new rules. The decision has inspired incoming committee chairs in the new Republican-controlled House of Representatives, senior Republican senators and others to declare war against what they see as further government intrusion into private life.
The New Rules
At issue are three new rules agreed upon by the FCC in a 3-2 vote down party lines during its monthly open commission meeting Tuesday. The first rule is FCC chairman Julius Genachowski's oft discussed "transparency obligation." This will require fixed-line (ground) broadband providers to be transparent about the methods they use to manage their networks. The new rule is supposed to provide you with information to help you make better choices about which online services a particular provider may or may not be blocking, and how fast average broadband speeds are on that network.
The second rule says that broadband providers cannot block "lawful content, apps, services, and the connection of devices to the network." Wireless broadband carriers, meanwhile, may block services they deem appropriate as long as the carrier doesn't offer a competing service.
Lastly, fixed-line broadband providers must not discriminate against lawful Web traffic being delivered to your home. In other words: no traffic throttling. But that doesn't mean you should expect peer to peer file-sharing speeds during dinnertime to be at the same speeds you get in the early morning. Broadband providers may still slow down some traffic as they will be allowed to manage their networks, especially during peak hours, to maintain the best speeds possible for all users on the network.
The new rules also discourage, but don't disallow, paid prioritization, a euphemism for a scheme where broadband providers could shake down Web services such as Google and Facebook to pay for the right to have their traffic delivered faster to your home than other online services.
Net neutrality supporters see the new FCC rules as toothless, or as Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) recently said, "worse than nothing." But Republicans are going further than just voicing dissent, vowing to repeal or disrupt the new regulations.
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the "new House majority will work to reverse this unnecessary and harmful federal government power grab next year," according to Politico.
Senator John Ensign of Nevada, the ranking Republican member on the Senate Commerce Committee Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet, said, "These new FCC rules restrict access to the Internet and stall this type of innovation in our country."
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ken.) raised the specter of further government takeover of private industry. "The Obama administration, which has already nationalized health care, the auto industry, insurance companies, banks and student loans, will move forward with what could be a first step in controlling how Americans use the Internet...this a Trojan Horse for further meddling by the government. Fortunately, we'll have an opportunity in the new Congress to push back against new rules and regulations," McConnell said.
Representative Greg Walden (R-Ore.) who will head up the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in the new Congress intends to challenge the legality of the FCC's new rules. "We plan to look at all legislative options for reversing the decision. We also plan to hold a series of hearings early next year on the substance, process and claims of authority underlying this proceeding," Walden said. Earlier this year, a U.S. appeals court ruled the FCC "lacked any statutorily mandated responsibility to enforce network neutrality rules."
Fox News published a commentary by Phil Kerpen, vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity -- a conservative think tank -- that called on Congress to invalidate the FCC's rules. "Congress must do its job and stop the FCC," Kerpen said.
If Republicans fight hard against the new FCC rules, they may have at least one broadband provider in their corner. Shortly after the FCC decision, Tom Tauke, Verizon's executive vice president of public affairs, policy and communications, said the FCC's "assertion of authority without solid statutory underpinnings will yield continued uncertainty for industry, innovators, and investors. In the long run, that is harmful to consumers and the nation."
The FCC may have won the most recent battle over net neutrality, but the war is far from over.