Net Neutrality Rules Still on Track for November 20th

By TAP Staff Blogger

Posted on November 10, 2011


With the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) net neutrality rules scheduled to go into effect November 20th, they survived a Senate resolution of disapproval debate yesterday, and a vote today. The Republican-backed bill to overturn the rules failed in a 46-to-52 vote that fell primarily along party lines.

An article in Broadcasting & Cable summarizes the political positions on net neutrality:

Republicans have argued the FCC exceeded its authority, is attempting to regulate the Internet, and could chill investment and innovation. Democrats, led by the White House, Democratic congressional leaders and FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski, say it will protect the Internet from being blocked or degraded and provide regulatory certainty that will spur investment and innovation. (Net Neutrality-Blocking Resolution Senate Vote Expected Thursday” 11/7/2011)

While the net neutrality rules survived the vote in the Senate today, the neutrality rules are being challenged in court. Verizon Communications and Metro PCS, both wireless service providers, have sued the agency, saying the rules go beyond the FCC’s jurisdiction as a communications services regulator. On the other side, Free Press, which supports net neutrality, has also sued the FCC, saying the rules don’t adequately protect wireless consumers.

In essence, the FCC’s Open Internet Order presents a set of rules that give the commission the authority to step into disputes about how Internet service providers are managing their networks or initiate their own investigations if they think ISPs are violating its rules. The order can be broken down into three high-level rules:

  • Transparency - requires broadband providers – fixed and wireless – to be more transparent about their activities. They need to be upfront about how they manage their networks, how well (or poorly) their networks perform, as well as details about their plan options and pricing.

  • No Blocking - fixed providers cannot block lawful content, apps, services, or "non-harmful" devices, or charge providers of these services for delivering traffic to and from their networks. Wireless providers, meanwhile, cannot block access to lawful Web sites or block apps that compete with their own voice or video telephony services. It does not apply to mobile broadband app stores. In other words, your ISP would not be able to block access to Netflix's streaming service, for example, just because a select few people were clogging the system.

  • No Unreasonable Discrimination - ISPs can manage their networks, but it can't be "unreasonable" or discriminate against specific applications. In other words, Comcast could slow down its entire network to handle an influx of users, but it could not cut off a specific, bandwidth-hungry service – like BitTorrent or Netflix or Hulu.

Supporters of the rules say they preserve competition and protect consumer choice, but opponents argue they impose unnecessary burdens on businesses.

Many TAP scholars have done extensive research on network neutrality. For a list of academics and their work, see TAP’s Net Neutrality Issue page.