The Federal Communications Commission’s new “net neutrality” rules, approved last week by a 3-2 vote, will allow the FCC to regulate broadband as a utility by reclassifying it as a telecommunications service much like phone service.
The order specifically bars broadband providers from blocking consumer access to content, applications and services; impairing or degrading internet traffic on the basis of content, applications or services; and favoring certain internet content over others, including allowing for paid “fast lanes.” However, the order permits broadband providers to engage in “reasonable network management” practices that could lead to slower access for some consumers.
The net neutrality order also requires broadband providers to publicly disclose promotional rates, fees and surcharges and data caps. Finally, even though the order brings broadband service under the FCC’s enforcement authority, it does not subject broadband providers to rate regulation, require them to contribute to the universal service fund, which funds the E-Rate program, or allow state and local governments to tax broadband service.
While these rules represent a landmark change, they will likely see legal challenges from major broadband providers such as AT&T. Additionally, the House and Senate commerce committees continue to work on crafting a new law that would replace the commission’s net neutrality rules with a more watered-down version. So while this round of the net neutrality debate may have come to close, the fight is far from over.