On Feb. 26 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) approved a set of rules and reclassified broadband as a regulated telecom utility and this week published the rules that will take effect early May, 60 days from publication.
The FCC rules, which impact mobile and wireline carriers, prohibit Internet Services Providers (ISPs) from blocking subscriber access to online services, devices, and content that don't harm the network. The regulatory action also prohibits providers from degrading legal Internet traffic as well.
It's the third rule that has been in the headlines since being proposed as it makes it illegal for ISPs to instill paid priorization in terms of providing service, what some have termed as creating fast lanes for subscribers willing to pay for such network access.
The third rule also prevents providers from denying, blocking or controlling traffic, which is viewed as throttling traffic streams. The third rule has become a hot button with ISPs that believe they should have the right to control network traffic and be able to provide such a service and those who believe Internet access should be equally available to everyone, which has been termed as providing net neutrality. Internet providers are also not happy with the regulatory power the new rules give the FCC in terms of oversight on ISP practices.
Several ISPs and their industry lobby groups have indicated they may be taking legal action against the new rules. Such legal action has proven victorious for ISPs in the past. Last year a court of appeals ruled in favor of Verizon, which challenged new FCC "net neutrality" rules approved four years earlier.
The 400-page set of rules, released (pdf) on Thursday by the agency, offers up "clear and enforceable" regulatory action that protects the consumer, claim FCC officials. The tome includes extensive background of net neutrality strategy by the federal government, as well as its argument on why the rules should be enforced as well as potential legal issues ahead. The five FCC commissioners have also provided individual statements in the order.
The agency included all the additional documentation given the likelihood of court battles it expects over the proposed rules. The fact that the FCC itself is split over the rules, with two commissioners vocal in opposition, will likely make court action more combative than the earlier fight waged by Verizon.
It only took a few hours on Thursday, after the rules were released, for ISPs and industry groups to express their opposition. The National Cable and Telecommunications Association, for example, says the FCC has gone "well beyond creating enforceable open Internet rules," and is trying to force a "regulatory regime change" that will hurt consumers, draw extensive and expensive legal actions and lead to "ongoing market uncertainty."
Others, however, cheered support for what they believe is necessary for a free and equal Internet.