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Full rules for protecting net neutrality released by FCC

The commission will decide what's acceptable on a case-by-case basis. Let the legal battles begin!

Arrow. Image courtesy of 360b/Shutterstock.The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on Thursday lay down 400 pages worth of details on how it plans to regulate broadband providers as a public utility.

These are the rules – and their legal justifications – meant to protect net neutrality.

They were passed last month, and details have been eagerly anticipated.

The main gist of the lengthy document released on Thursday are these three new rules:

  • 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.
  • No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind – in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

The document’s introduction sets the scene for justifying net neutrality, with a description of the innovation that flourishes under unfettered traffic flow, such as the growth of Netflix streaming (it’s now the number one business in North America when it comes to sending out peak downstream traffic), Etsy having grown from $314 million in merchandise sales in 2010 to $135 billion 3 years later, and new innovative businesses such as CBS and HBO with their upcoming cable-subscription-free streaming plans and Discovery Communications with its planned “over-the-top” service providing bandwidth-intensive programming.

These innovations are downright award-winning, the FCC said, dropping in a mention of Amazon taking home two Golden Globe awards for its new series “Transparent.”

To keep fueling the country’s economy, an open internet is crucial, the FCC said:

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. For over a decade, the commission has been committed to protecting and promoting an open internet.

But just how this economic engine gets regulated is one of the crucial questions.

Specifically, which regulations of Title II of the Communications Act – the legal underpinnings of the commission’s move to regulate broadband – will it enforce?

The FCC’s document addresses the concerns that have arisen over the Commission possibly moving away from its goal of “ubiquitous availability of broadband to all Americans” that’s been set out in previous classification decisions, confirming that it will be using a light regulatory hand, as has been requested by President Obama.

The FCC bent over backwards – as it has done repeatedly – to try to convince critics that it won’t be heavy-handed.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said in an accompanying statement that Title II powers that are off the table include mandatory universal service contributions, rate regulations, or a return to local loop unbundling.

Wheeler also went to pains to make it clear that the light regulatory touch will let innovation flourish, similar to how wireless has been regulated:

Let me be clear, the FCC will not impose 'utility style' regulation. We forbear from sections of Title II that pose a meaningful threat to network investment, and over 700 provisions of the FCC’s rules. That means no rate regulation, no filing of tariffs, and no network unbundling. During the 22 years that wireless voice has been regulated under a light-touch Title II like we propose today, there has never been concern about the ability of wireless companies to price competitively, flexibly, or quickly, or their ability to achieve a return on their investment.

The New York Times has provided excerpts from the rules, along with analysis, that provides a deep dive into the many wrinkles of the new rules.

Here are a few of the salient details:

  • The rules cover mobile devices.
  • The commission might not get involved in price-setting, but it will retain authority to ensure consumer privacy. From the new rules:

    Section 222: Protecting Consumer Privacy. Ensuring the privacy of customer information both directly protects consumers from harm and eliminates consumer concerns about using the internet that could deter broadband deployment. Among other things, Section 222 imposes a duty on every telecommunications carrier to take reasonable precautions to protect the confidentiality of its customers' proprietary information. We take this mandate seriously.-Paragraph 53

  • Internet “fast lanes”, otherwise known as “paid prioritization”, have been banned. That doesn’t mean that the FCC is going to focus on things like Netflix slowdowns, though; rather, the commission seems to be focused on traffic from providers like Comcast and Verizon, while Netflix slowdowns come down to interconnection disputes.
  • The FCC will decide what’s acceptable on a case-by-case basis, opening the door for what’s anticipated to be loads of legal analysis and litigation.

It will take some time for lawyers to wade through the new rules, but AT&T, for its part, put out a terse statement that mentions possible legal action:

Unfortunately, the order released today begins a period of uncertainty that will damage broadband investment in the United States. Ultimately, though, we are confident the issue will be resolved by bipartisan action by Congress or a future FCC, or by the courts.

The two dissenting commissioners’ opinions were included along with the new rules.

Here’s an excerpt of Ajit Pai’s arguments against them:

This is not only a radical departure from the bipartisan, market-oriented policies that have served us so well for the last two decades. It is also an about-face from the proposals the FCC made just last May.

So why is the FCC changing course? Why is the FCC turning its back on internet freedom? Is it because we now have evidence that the internet is not open? No. Is it because we have discovered some problem with our prior interpretation of the law? No. We are flip-flopping for one reason and one reason alone. President Obama told us to do so.

And from Michael O’Rielly:

Today a majority of the Commission attempts to usurp the authority of Congress by rewriting the Communications Act to suit its own "values" and political ends. The item claims to forbear from certain monopoly-era Title II regulations while reserving the right to impose them using other provisions or at some point in the future. The commission abdicates its role as an expert agency by defining and classifying services based on unsupported and unreasonable findings. It fails to account for substantial differences between fixed and mobile technologies. It opens the door to apply these rules to edge providers. It delegates substantial authority to the Bureaus, including how the rules will be interpreted and enforced on a case-by-case basis. And, lest we forget how this proceeding started, it also reinstates net neutrality rules. Indeed, it seems that every bad idea ever floated in the name of net neutrality has come home to roost in this item.

Image of arrow courtesy of Shutterstock.


It’s amazing that the internet flourished without regulation – and suddenly now it’s needed. Now that the lawyers are involved, expect less innovation, more red tape, and fines for no other reason than trying to create or grow a business. Oh and get ready for bandwidth capped or tier pricing and more expensive cell phone data plans.

Thanks big gov’t….


I foresee that we will soon be charged per gigabytes of data or megabyte of date we download. After all, our power and water bills are determined by how much we use and they are utility services.


Bandwidth-capped and tiered pricing has been here for years. I’m not sure why you think net neutrality will lead to it.


Kelson, I am not talking about current plans. I am talking about the idea of an ISP doing the following.

Customer signs up for Internet using an already installed ONT (FiOS) here.

Verizon resets counter on ONT.

Customer gets first bill and sees in the bill 300 dollars minus the taxes and other fees for service, and on the break down it lists that they used 30Gigs of data the first month at 10 dollars per 10gigs of data used. The next month they use 20Gigs of Data and sees a bill for 200 dollars. However, the next month customer gets married and the combined usage of data is 50Gigs their bills now hover over 450 bucks due to streaming and gaming. This is how utilities work the more you use the more you pay. Now that Internet is a Utility ISP’s and Providers can now implement the the same idea behind water, gas, and electricity. However, prior to this you paid a flat fee for your home based internet which you knew would never go up.


Dan, those plans already exist in the form of data caps. Some ISPs don’t limit the amount of data transfer, but some do, and either charge for overages or offer a tiered scheme where the faster plans also include larger monthly data allotments.

Title II doesn’t enable ISPs to do this. They’re already doing it.


I’d suggest capped plans are the norm in many countries. I’ve used numerous ISPs over the years, and I’ve never had an uncapped plan. Still don’t.

I could have one if I wanted…but I’d pay more for the privilege. And to make the extra charges worthwhile, I’d have to download a lot more stuff than I currently need or want. (If you like to see the glass half full instead of half empty, consider this a discount that allows me to pay less compared to people who like stocking up on more TV episodes than they can possibly watch :-)

Maybe some capped plans are a bit of a ripoff compared to the uncapped ones, e.g. if an ISP charged $10 per GB against $50 per month for an all-you-can-eat plan. But that’s a different issue to whether pay-as-you-go is an unacceptable concept.



I guess you are not understanding me correctly when I say like power and gas companies charge per use. You get your internet and they just turn it on no plan what so ever, and they charge you for how much you use no data caps involved as in with wireless plans. I have a 10Gig data plan on my wireless account for which I pay 200 a month for 4 devices. If I go over I pay more. However, with the way pay for use works you use it a lot you pay more you dont use it you pay less. No plans no data caps, nothing like that at all. Its how you are charged for electricity, water, and gas here in the states and I assume around the world as well. That is what I am getting at since it is a Utility Service like Water, Gas, and Power.


“It’s amazing that the internet flourished without regulation – and suddenly now it’s needed.”
Do you really believe that the Internet has been without regulation? It’s been quite significantly regulated, through various agreements and regulations aimed at the main providers who in the US are now pretty much the only providers left. All the unregulated ones have been bought up or died off.

The reason why new regulation is important now is that many of those old agreements and regulations are set to expire in the next few years (I believe some of Verizon’s agreements expire this year). These companies that have been under regulation and soon will not be, have already been pushing for “fast lanes” and preferred networking strategies going forward. In some cases, they’ve even attempted this model and been told to stop. Without coming up with a new set of regulations to “rule them all”, this will soon be a situation where only some of the players will be able to be told to stop, which creates an unfair playing field — not just across this market, but even among the currently established behemoths.

Bandwidth caps: already exist.

Tiered Pricing: already exists.

More expensive cell phone data plans: Why? These are *already* regulated under similar Tier II regulation. Their upstream providers won’t be allowed to discriminate on data, so there should be nothing that increases their costs (not to say that companies like Verizon and AT&T won’t take advantage of the political landscape to increase their prices anyway, but there’s nothing in this regulation that even touches them on this point).

So “big” or “little” government doesn’t really matter here, other than they’re attempting to continue to keep American taxpayers protected from predatory acts which, admittedly, are possible due to *other* telecommunications regulations and kickbacks from the previous millennium.

Yes — the US government gave the major Telecom and Cable providers large amounts of taxpayer money to build out a higher speed network in both rural and urban America — and that network was never completed, with most of the rural network never even started. Turns out the FCC had no teeth to enforce that build out after they gave away the money. Oops.

So based on that, the entire industry might actually see higher prices before they come down, as your tax money is no longer subsidizing the major players as their current agreements (which are similar to what the FCC is outlining to do here on a blanket basis) run out.


Four hundred pages, well, it’s a good start to another bureaucratic nightmare.


Eight pages of rules. The rest is commentary and analysis.


You clearly don’t know what you’re talking about. Since when is any legislation in Washington, D.C. done in 8 pages ?


It wasn’t in DC, which wasn’t yet the capital IIRC, and it wasn’t exactly legislation…but sometimes it’s worth peeking at the text of the Gettysburg Address. A new birth of freedom! Didn’t even need big words.


It’s a tragedy that the politicians and lawyers will now run the internet in the U.S. This is directly the fault of Obama for imposing his will upon the decision-making authority of the FCC, which is an independent agency. Blame should also be placed on the director of the FCC for caving into Obama’s directive.


The industry itself was pressuring Wheeler (and Obama) long before Obama caved and provided guidance. This regulation provides one playing field where previously there were individual agreements between the government and the major players that funneled taxpayer money to a limited few.

Also, the politicians and lawyers have been running the Internet since its inception. There’s nothing new here in that regard.


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