Here's What The New FCC Net Neutrality Rules Mean

Yesterday the FCC announced new, expanded rules enforcing net neutrality, and they’ve set aside the next 60 days for public debate. Get ready to hear all sorts of creative end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it arguments from opponents like AT&T. We’ve checked out the official document (pdf) and below we summarize the changes that are open to public discussion for the next two months.

1. Here are the current four rules announced by the FCC in 2005:

  • “Consumers are entitled to access the lawful Internet content of their choice.”
  • “Consumers are entitled to run applications and use services of their choice, subject to the needs of law enforcement.”
  • “Consumers are entitled to connect their choice of legal devices that do not harm the network.”
  • “Consumers are entitled to competition among network providers, application and service providers, and content providers.”

2. Here are the two new “principals” they announced yesterday:

  • Nondiscrimination
    This sort of overlaps with the existing rules, in that it forbids providers from “favoring or disfavoring lawful content, applications, or services accessed by their subscribers, subject to reasonable network management.”
  • Transparency
    Providers must disclose to customers their network management policies before the customer signs up for service. Providers must also disclose their network management policies to content, application, and service providers, as well as to the FCC.

The FCC adds, “All of the principles would be subject to reasonable network management and the needs of law enforcement, public safety, and homeland and national security.”

3. Finally, the FCC extended the scope of these rules and principals to cover mobile wireless broadband. Yay!

4. Here’s one other thing that the FCC wants feedback on:

“Managed” or “specialized” services, such as VOIP or subscription video services, may fall into a special category since they “may differ from broadband Internet access services in ways that recommend a different policy approach, and it may be inappropriate to apply the rules proposed here.” The FCC is looking for input on how to approach this special class of services.

Providers have and will continue to argue that the future of the Internet depends on whether or not they’re allowed to shape traffic and practice general network management. What they’ll probably forget to mention is that the FCC agrees with them, but doesn’t agree that this means they should get a free pass to control access.

The FCC notes in yesterday’s draft that the rapid growth of Internet traffic demands creative approaches to network management, but that this also provides plenty of opportunities for companies to screw over their customers to make more money. The FCC’s goal, then, is to give companies room to practice network management as they deem best, but to prevent them from using that as an excuse to force specific products or web content on consumers, or to interfere with competition from other companies under the guise of network management.

And don’t take it too seriously when an Internet provider warns that this will increase costs to the consumer. Every provider that’s serious about making money fully intends to find ways to raise costs over time regardless; it’s almost a certainty that should Net Neutrality go away tomorrow, prices wouldn’t magically drop in the coming years.

How do you provide feedback?

Two ways:

1. You can leave formal comments through the Commission’s Electronic Comment Filing System. You’ll need to know the proceeding number of the proposal, which is the same as the GN Docket Number: 09-191.

2. Or for a more “town hall” style form of participation (meaning we have no idea if participating here really matters), you can visit the IdeaScale website, which they describe as “an online platform for brainstorming and rating solutions to policy challenges.”

“Commission Seeks Public Input on Draft Rules to Preserve the Free and Open Internet – Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” (pdf) [FCC]
(Photo: dougwood)

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