As you may have heard, this week the FCC approved net neutrality rules that sought to strike compromise between Internet companies, broadband providers and consumers. The nitty-gritty starts on page 27 of the document, but here’s the gist:
Transparency: Broadband providers for both wired and wireless Internet must disclose their network management policies.
No Blocking: Wired broadband providers may not block any lawful content, applications or services. Wireless broadband providers are not required to allow all applications and services, but may not block any lawful Websites applications that compete with its telephony or video service. This is all subject to “reasonable network management.”
No Discrimination: Wired broadband providers may not speed up or slow down individual types of lawful traffic, with exceptions for reasonable network management. No such rules apply to wireless broadband.
As the Washington Post’s Cecilia Kang notes, one of the major sticking points is that last rule, which would govern deals between an Internet company and a broadband provider for faster delivery (also known as “paid prioritization”). Although the rules allow for paid prioritization, these deals would “raise significant cause for concern” according to the FCC, and would be subject to increased scrutiny.
How will the FCC’s rules be enforced? Using the same process as its cable access complaint rules, the FCC will allow users to submit formal complaints, which are reviewed on a case-by-case basis. In most cases the burden of proof will be on users, but based on the evidence, the FCC can also make Internet providers prove they weren’t breaking the rules. The FCC believes it can “issue citations and impose forfeiture penalties for violations of our rules.” See page 82 of the document for more on enforcement.
Overall, the rules are similar to the framework that Google and Verizon proposed in August. Given critics’ reaction to the Google-Verizon framework, it’s no surprise that net neutrality supporters are flogging the FCC’s rules for being too soft on paid prioritization and wireless Internet. Meanwhile, Republicans have vowed to strike down the rules in Congress.
However, Bnet’s Erik Sherman argues that the rules may not even exist, because only one commissioner voted completely in favor of the rules along with Chairman Julius Genachowski, according to the FCC’s own press release. One commissioner voted “in part” while the remaining two dissented. With no clear 3-2 vote, the rules as a whole were not technically approved.
In other words, the battle over the Internet’s future is far from over.