FCC publishes ‘net neutrality’ rules

After 10 months of anxious waiting, the FCC’s net neutrality rules have finally been published in the Federal Register. It's sure to set off an intense political battle that will most likely end up in the courts.

The rules add transparency to how broadband providers — both wired and wireless — manage networks. They prohibit wired broadband providers from blocking lawful content, applications, services and non-harmful devices.

Wireless providers are also barred from blocking lawful websites or applications that compete with voice or video services. They also forbid wired broadband providers from discriminating in the transmission of lawful network traffic.

The rules are set to take effect on Nov. 20. However, it’s expected that Verizon and MetroPCS will challenge the rules in court. Earlier cases from Verizon and MetroPCS cases were tossed out of court because the rules hadn’t been finalized.

Approval of the rules last December was along party lines. Three Democrats voted yes for the rules; two Republicans voted no. One of those Republicans has since accepted a job as a lobbyist at Comcast.

A critic of the rules, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), called on the House and Senate to block them. She called them an “Internet Iron Curtain” and a “job-killer.”

“Net neutrality is a net loser,” Blackburn said. “These regulations were approved last December, and the FCC has been slow-walking them to avoid the lawsuits that are certain to be filed. It is just another example of a federal agency defying the will of the people.”

Comcast spurred the FCC into action on net neutrality after it throttled BitTorrent traffic on its network. The FCC tried to penalize Comcast for this move, but a court ruled against the commission since it had no rules on net neutrality in place.

“The rules developed by the FCC take important steps to ensure that the Internet remains an open marketplace,” said Parul P. Desai, policy counsel for the Consumers Union. “When purchasing Internet service, consumers rightfully expect that they will have equal access to all that the Web offers and shouldn’t be held back because of industry tactics. For the first time, there will be clear rules to protect consumers and keep the Internet growing as an open, innovative environment.”

Gigi B. Sohn, president resident and co-founder of Public Knowledge, said she wishes the rules were stronger, but called them “a good start.”

“Companies providing Internet access services have informally abided by a neutrality policy since the FCC acted,” Sohn said. “In that time, the Internet has not come crashing down and the government has not taken control over it.”

One critic is Free Press.

“The rules passed in December are riddled with loopholes,” said Matt Wood, policy director for Free Press. “They don’t do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination that is already occurring in the marketplace, and that will only get worse.”