FCC Passes Net Neutrality Rules

December 21, 2010

The Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 today to pass new net neutrality rules intended to block broadband companies from interfering with their customers' Internet access, The Associated Press reports.

The new rules - a compromise measure following years of debate - "require broadband providers to let subscribers access all legal online content, applications and services over their wired networks" but give broadband providers the flexibility to manage data as long as they publicly disclose their practices, according to AP.

"The measure pleased few, and raised howls of outrage from those who say the measure will stifle broadband investment and those who say the measure doesn't do enough to keep online innovation thriving," Wired reports.

Sascha Meinrath, director of the New America Foundation's Open Technology Initiative, told Wired, "Despite promising to fulfill President Obama's campaign promise of enacting network neutrality rules to protect an open Internet, the FCC has instead prioritized the profits of corporations like AT&T over those of the general public, Internet entrepreneurs, and local businesses across the country."

And The Blog of Legal Times reports that even members of the FCC predict "legal challenges are all but certain."

Sen. Al Franken called net neutrality "the most important free speech issue of our time," in a column in The Huffington Post yesterday anticipating today's FCC vote.

"If they approve it as is, I'll be outraged. And you should be, too," he writes. He continues:

Mobile networks like AT&T and Verizon Wireless would be able to shut off your access to content or applications for any reason. For instance, Verizon could prevent you from accessing Google Maps on your phone, forcing you to use their own mapping program, Verizon Navigator, even if it costs money to use and isn't nearly as good. Or a mobile provider with a political agenda could prevent you from downloading an app that connects you with the Obama campaign (or, for that matter, a Tea Party group in your area).

It gets worse. The FCC has never before explicitly allowed discrimination on the Internet -- but the draft Order takes a step backwards, merely stating that so-called "paid prioritization" (the creation of a "fast lane" for big corporations who can afford to pay for it) is cause for concern.

It sure is -- but that's exactly why the FCC should ban it. Instead, the draft Order would have the effect of actually relaxing restrictions on this kind of discrimination.

The Yale Law and Policy Review's online companion Inter Alia, has released a symposium on net neutrality rules, which includes a piece by George Washington University law professor Dawn Nunziato on First Amendment considerations and Harvard Law and computer science professor Jonathan Zittrain on rethinking net neutrality in diplomacy terms. Click here to read the collection of articles.

[image via M3Li55@]