by Rob Spadafore
A war is waging over access to the Internet. Early this March, the Federal Communications Committee laid out the new rules for their vision of the open Net. Coming in at 400 pages, the FCC’s document set a definitive stance on many issues and explains the commission’s reasoning behind the decisions.
Late in February, after a clear urge from President Obama, the FCC voted down party lines 3-2 for strong new regulations on broadband services. By redefining broadband as a “Title II” telecommunications service under the Communications Act of 1934, the agency will be able to regulate Internet service providers (or ISPs) in a similar way to telephone companies. This move grants the FCC an unprecedented amount of control, granting the commission the ability to make ISPs provide equal access to its services for customers.
The recent rulings differ from past statements the FCC made on the subject. In May of last year, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed a very different set of rules that allowed ISPs to charge websites for better service. After massive outcry from the public and tech groups like Google and Facebook, the FCC took some time to reevaluate their stance.
The FCC justifies its current decision as an effort to preserve net neutrality. Their official stance is that ISPs are restricted from limiting, or throttling, people’s access to particular web content or sites.
“The open Internet drives the American economy and serves, every day, as a critical tool for America’s citizens to conduct commerce, communicate, educate, entertain, and engage in the world around them. The benefits of an open Internet are undisputed. But it must remain open: open for commerce, innovation, and speech; open for consumers and for the innovation created by applications developers and content companies; and open for expansion and investment by America’s broadband providers,” the FCC’s document states in its first paragraph.
Still, some are concerned with the most recent proposal. While the FCC’s document doesn’t set up new taxes on the Internet, broadband connections are now classified under the same category as telecommunications. While the process is difficult, the FCC is capable of modifying their decision later down the road to create a tax on the Net similar to taxes on services like phone calls or text messages.
Internet providers appose the decision, claiming that the ruling will hurt potential investment and growth of their companies, which may lead to higher prices and weaker services for customers.
The FCC framed the ruling around three essential pillars. Providers are not allowed to block consumers from any lawful content. They’re also unable to throttle access to any services, including content from competitors or a specific source. Lastly, ISPs are not allowed to provide better or faster service to sites that pay extra.
These rules ensure that ISPs cannot set up what are commonly referred to as Internet fast lanes. For example, if Netflix paid Comcast, the digita-video service would stream high-quality videos faster than services that didn’t pay extra.
But Netlifx, along with other companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon, stands against throttling the open Internet, filing comments with the FCC after the commission’s proposal last year. These companies and over 30 other tech businesses are part of a lobbying group called the Internet Association.
Both the Internet-Association’s and the general-public’s criticism provided a clear and unified stance on America’s desire for a free and open Internet. Together, they submitted over 1.7 million comments to the FCC between May and September of last year.
These rules aren’t officially in effect. They still need to be published in the Federal Registrar and will start two months after that. At that time, companies like AT&T who disagree with the FCC’s decision will be able to file lawsuits. Until then, the rules are considered the law of the digital land.