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FCC issues new Net Neutrality rules

January 4, 2011 by · Comments Off
Filed under: Internet, law 

On December 21st the FCC approved new rules regarding Net Neutrality.  Net Neutrality is the concept that all websites will be treated the same by ISPs (e.g. Verizon or Comcast), and ISPs will not be able to block websites that may compete with additional services the ISP may offer.  For example, Comcast offers telephone services through their network, and so they would profit by banning (or charging an additional fee to) VOIP telephone services, such as Skype, from using Comcast’s transmission lines.  Comcast might also charge websites to receive a faster loading, creating “fast lane” for high budget sites and discouraging users from visiting start-up sites with a slower load time.  Net Neutrality would prevent Comcast from taking this action.

The rules set forth by the FCC sparked harsh criticism from people on both sides of the issue.  FCC commissioner Robert McDowell claimed these rules were overly vague and intrusive regulation by the federal government over the internet.  Senator Al Franken, a strong supporter of Net Neutrality, said he felt these regulations failed to provide the protections he was hoping for.  Many free speech and internet advocacy groups claimed the FCC proposal is Net Neutrality in name only, and fails to meet the principles of Net Neutrality.  The ISPs and wireless carriers themselves seem to be among the few organizations that are in support of the new plan.  The simple fact that the industry being regulated is in favor of the new regulations is cause for worry for many Net Neutrality advocates.

There are two areas of contention about the new rules.  The first is the FCC allowing ISPs to engage in “network management”, which will permit ISPs to slow internet connections and engage in “reasonable” activity to manage their network.  Network Neutrality worries that this exception will become a loophole allowing ISPs to completely escape Network Neutrality restrictions.  The other issue is with wireless carriers, which will be allowed to restrict the availability of applications on mobile phones, a violation of network neutrality principles.  The FCC claims that smart phones are an emerging technology and need to be granted more leeway until the technology has had time to establish itself.

One thing most of the interested parties in these regulations agree on is that these regulations will be the subject of law suits in the near future.  The FCC’s previous Net Neutrality regulations were held unenforceable in federal court when they were challenged by Comcast.  The FCC claims that they have established these rules with solid legal grounding based on the 1996 Telecommunications Act, but the sufficiency of these claims is sure to be tested soon.