Net neutrality: FCC passes divisive new rules; providers react badly

27 Feb 2015

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has voted to pass new net neutrality rules for wireless and wireline operators, which will bar the blocking and throttling of content and ban carriers and internet service providers (ISPs) from striking deals with content companies. The regulator introduced its decision by saying: ‘The FCC has long been committed to protecting and promoting an internet that nurtures freedom of speech and expression, supports innovation and commerce, and incentivises expansion and investment by America’s broadband providers. But the agency’s attempts to implement enforceable, sustainable rules to protect the Open Internet have been twice struck down by the courts. Today, the Commission – once and for all – enacts strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future.’

As such, the following clauses have been highlighted as the key provisions of the FCC’s Open Internet Order:

• No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices;

• No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; and

• No Paid Prioritisation: broadband providers may not favour some lawful internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind – in other words, no ‘fast lanes’.

However, a number of major players have hit out at the rules, and harbour grave concerns that the FCC intends to apply utility-style regulation on the internet by using Title II of the 1934 Communications Act to implement the new rules. In an official media statement, Michael E Glover, senior vice president of public policy and government affairs for Verizon, commented: ‘Today’s decision by the FCC to encumber broadband internet services with badly antiquated regulations is a radical step that presages a time of uncertainty for consumers, innovators and investors. Over the past two decades a bipartisan, light-touch policy approach unleashed unprecedented investment and enabled the broadband Internet age consumers now enjoy … The FCC’s move is especially regrettable because it is wholly unnecessary. The FCC had targeted tools available to preserve an open internet, but instead chose to use this order as an excuse to adopt 300-plus pages of broad and open-ended regulatory arcana that will have unintended negative consequences for consumers and various parts of the internet ecosystem for years to come.’

In an attempt to highlight what it perceives as the antiquated aspect of the new rules, Verizon released the statement in a faux-typewritten font and also in Morse Code, noting that the original rules that are being cited by the FCC were conceived in ‘the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph’.