FCC passes net neutrality rules by 3-2 vote

Dec. 22, 2010
DECEMBER 22, 2010 By Stephen Hardy -- By a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed a Report and Order on net neutrality designed to appease both open Internet advocates and free market proponents.

DECEMBER 22, 2010 By Stephen Hardy -- By a 3-2 vote along party lines, the Federal Communications Commission yesterday passed a Report and Order on net neutrality designed to appease both open Internet advocates and free market proponents.

The voting within the FCC reflected the controversy surrounding the net neutrality question. Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioner Michael Copps supported the new rules, Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker voted against them, and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn “approved in part and concurred in part,” according to the FCC statement announcing the results of the vote. So perhaps the final tally should be considered 2.75 to 2.25.

The rules are designed to prevent service providers from blocking access to content while still allowing them to control their networks. Chairman Genachowski described the new regime as “a strong and sensible, non-ideological framework -- one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment throughout the broadband ecosystem.”

The Report and Order focuses on three basic principles:

  1. Transparency: Broadband Internet access service providers must publicly disclose accurate information regarding the network management practices, performance, and commercial terms of their broadband Internet access services.
  2. No blocking of access: Fixed broadband Internet access service providers must not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to “reasonable network management.” Similarly, providers of mobile broadband Internet access services also can not block consumers from accessing lawful websites, subject to reasonable network management, or block applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephony services. The Report and Order defines “reasonable network management” as being “appropriate and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service.” Allowable network management purposes include: ensuring network security and integrity, including by addressing traffic that is harmful to the network; addressing parental controls and similar issues; and reducing or mitigating the effects of network congestion.
  3. No unreasonable discrimination: Fixed broadband Internet access service providers cannot “unreasonably” discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer’s broadband Internet access service, reads the Report and Order. While reasonable network management would not constitute unreasonable discrimination, the FCC says tiered service provision, in which a customer paid for priority access over other customers, probably would.

The Report and Order also states that the FCC plans to keep a lighter hand on mobile broadband than fixed broadband due to the former’s comparatively nascent state of development. It also notes that many broadband service providers use the same network infrastructure to provide “specialized services” such as voice over IP and IPTV. “We will closely monitor the robustness and affordability of broadband Internet access services, with a particular focus on any signs that specialized services are in any way retarding the growth of or constricting capacity available for broadband Internet access service,” the FCC says.