“Net neutrality” rules under Internet regulation as imposed by the Federal Communications Commission took effect on Friday after a federal court denied a “stay” sought by Internet service providers. So what do the rules mean?
WTW offers a two-part look:
1. The FCC’s view
2. A Q&A on the impact on consumers and businesses.
The FCC View
Here’ is what the FCC has to say about what it calls an “Open Internet:”
An Open Internet means consumers can go where they want, when they want. This principle is often referred to as Net Neutrality. It means innovators can develop products and services without asking for permission. It means consumers will demand more and better broadband as they enjoy new lawful Internet services, applications and content, and broadband providers cannot block, throttle, or create special “fast lanes” for that content. The FCC’s Open Internet rules protect and maintain open, uninhibited access to legal online content without broadband Internet access providers being allowed to block, impair, or establish fast/slow lanes to lawful content.
Adopted on February 26, 2015, the FCC’s Open Internet rules are designed to protect free expression and innovation on the Internet and promote investment in the nation’s broadband networks. The Open Internet rules are grounded in the strongest possible legal foundation by relying on multiple sources of authority, including: Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. As part of this decision, the Commission also refrains (or “forbears”) from enforcing provisions of Title II that are not relevant to modern broadband service. Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers.
The Open Internet rules went into effect on June 12, 2015. They are ensuring consumers and businesses have access to a fast, fair, and open Internet.
The new rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband service. This approach recognizes advances in technology and the growing significance of mobile broadband Internet access in recent years. These rules will protect consumers no matter how they access the Internet, whether on a desktop computer or a mobile device.
Bright Line Rules:
- No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
To ensure an open Internet now and in the future, the Open Internet rules also establish a legal standard for other broadband provider practices to ensure that they do not unreasonably interfere with or disadvantage consumers’ access to the Internet. The rules build upon existing, strong transparency requirements. They ensure that broadband providers maintain the ability to manage the technical and engineering aspects of their networks. The legal framework used to support these rules also positions the Commission for the first time to be able to address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and other networks and services.
FCC Rules Impact
What FCC rules mean for you, your business:
- What is net neutrality; what are the new rules?
Net neutrality is the principle that Internet providers treat all Web traffic equally, and it’s how the Internet works today. The FCC enacted rules that protect that, to make sure cable and phone companies don’t manipulate traffic: They can’t create special fast lanes for some content, like video from YouTube, or intentionally block or slow Web traffic. Many Internet providers say they don’t plan to do those things, but the FCC worried that they could.
- What’s changing for consumers?
In enacting its rules, the FCC placed Internet service in the same regulatory camp as telephone service. That means providers have to act in the “public interest” when supplying Internet service and refrain from “unjust or unreasonable” business practices. The FCC can investigate complaints about industry practices that might violate net-neutrality principles, even if they’re not specifically prohibited by the rules. Complaints can be filed here: https://consumercomplaints.fcc.gov/ .
The FCC can also hear disputes over commercial deals between Internet providers and companies like Netflix or Internet traffic companies like Cogent. Companies could complain that broadband providers are charging them too much to connect to their networks, for example. (These “interconnection” deals address how content gets to the gates of an Internet service provider’s networks — a separate issue from the banned paid fast lanes within an Internet provider’s network that would deliver some content more quickly to consumers.)
Fights over these arrangements had in the past led to a slowdown in Netflix streaming speeds for customers of several major Internet service providers.
- Which companies are affected?
Internet suppliers, whether through a smartphone or a wire to your home. That includes Comcast, AT&T and Verizon.
- Why is the industry opposed?
Companies say they don’t want the stricter regulation that comes with the net neutrality rules. They say the regulations will undermine investment in broadband, and that it’s not clear what is and isn’t allowed under the greater authority the FCC has to investigate unspecified complaints.
They are also concerned about price regulation. The FCC says it won’t preapprove the prices companies set for Internet access. But consumers can complain about the cost of their service and the government can look into it under the new rules.
However, in seeking the “stay,” providers said they did not oppose the “Bright Line” rules.