Part 3 in
the RapidGroove Net Neutrality Series
|Graphic credit: 21stcenturywire.com|
Back in March 2014 Net Neutrality was discussed in two RapidGroove
blog posts (“Net Neutrality as Fighting Words”
and “Net Neutrality, Part 2”). At the time,
I wrote that if the situation continued to develop, there might be a third post
in the future. A year later, that time has come.
To review, Net
Neutrality is the idea that all Internet traffic of a given type should have equal footing when
moving through the network, without some traffic being highly prioritized and
other traffic being blocked or slowed down. For example, an ISP would not be
permitted to artificially slow down the traffic of one streaming video service
in order to make another streaming video service (such as one that it operates
or has financial interest in) appear to perform better to their broadband service subscribers.
(Disclaimer: From here on, I'm wading into telecom law and policy that I'm really not qualified to interpret. But this is a blog, and the topic is of real interest to me, so I'll carry on with my best understanding. And I'll gladly accept corrections from those who know better!)
Consumer advocates and
Internet services companies such as Netflix and Google have generally been
supporters of strong Net Neutrality, while major carriers and broadband providers like
AT&T, Verizon and Comcast are interested in retaining more control. The latter group of companies is not
necessarily against an Open Internet, but has been concerned about burdensome regulation and possible revenue impact. They have been particularly opposed to one of the measures
voted upon last week – that broadband Internet Service Providers would be subject to
Title II of the Communications Act as “Common Carriers.”
This attention seems
to have fueled a tidal wave of public comments to the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) during 2014. So many comments were submitted that FCC Chairman Wheeler needed to extend the comment period and the
timeframe for announcing proposed rules. By early 2015 it began to become clear
that Chairman Wheeler would seek to provide the “strongest legal foundation for the Open Internet rules”
based upon Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the
Telecommunications Act of 1996.
FCC on Title II
As the February 26th vote approached, the
FCC described a set of “bright line rules” that Title II would enable. For
example, the FCC would prohibit network traffic blocking, throttling, and paid
prioritization while still allowing control by ISPs primarily intended for
Among the additional elements of Title
II that the FCC proposes to apply are protections of consumer privacy and
fair access to poles and conduits for broadband ISPs.
The FCC also promises some specific restraint
in order to reassure broadband ISPs. The FCC would achieve this restraint through
an established process called “forbearance” in which the FCC makes known the
areas in which it would not regulate. Here, the FCC is prepared to reassure
broadband ISPs that the FCC will not become heavily involved in rate setting or
rate approvals or “other forms of utility regulation” for broadband ISPs.
Section 706 requires the FCC to
determine whether high-speed broadband access to the Internet is
being made available to all Americans in a “timely fashion.” If not, according
to section 706, the FCC is responsible for taking action to "accelerate
deployment of such capability by removing barriers to infrastructure investment
and by promoting competition in the telecommunications market.”
The FCC pursued this issue in the February 26th vote by intervening in two states (Tennessee and North Carolina) that had limited the
expansion and availability of Internet access operated by cities. The FCC acted to remove those limits, allowing the expansion of city operated Internet access. If this action is not overturned when challenged later this year, the way may be cleared for more city-operated broadband
Internet access rollouts, which could increase the availability of high-speed broadband
access to the Internet in some geographic regions and add to the choices
available to consumers in others. Many (myself included) believe that increased
competition is really the heart of the matter.
(once again, a reminder that I am not a lawyer and I don't play one on the Internet)
It’s widely anticipated that once
the rules reach final adoption stage later this year, Comcast, Verizon and
AT&T will file legal challenges. It could be quite some time before any
impacts of last week’s votes are seen in action by consumers.
What’s your opinion? Will the FCC’s
recent moves help fuel competition for consumer business and promote a healthy,
competitive space for future network services? Please leave a comment and join
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