The US Federal Communications Commission, the FCC, says it has ‘once and for all’ enacted ‘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.’
This is called the FCC’s ‘Open Internet Order’, with full details available here.
The Commission quotes three principles it was guided by: ‘America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open—principles shared by the overwhelming majority of the nearly 4 million commenters who participated in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding.’
The FCC claims that, had it not acted, the openness of the Internet was at risk - something it says was ‘recognised by the very court that struck down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules last year in Verizon v. FCC.’
The Commission says the court upheld its fining that ‘Internet openness drives a “virtuous cycle” in which innovations at the edges of the network enhance consumer demand, leading to expanded investments in broadband infrastructure that, in turn, spark new innovations at the edge’, and that without these rules, ‘broadband providers have economic incentives that “represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment,” as affirmed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.’
More details on the Order are listed below.
Politico reports Chairman Tom Wheeler stating: "The Internet is the most powerful and pervasive platform on the planet. It’s simply too important to be left without rules and without a referee on the field. Today is a red-letter day for Internet freedom, for consumers who want to use the Internet on their terms, for innovators who want to reach consumers without the control of gatekeepers.”
The FCC's senior GOP (Republic) commissioner is quoted by Politico stating: "The commission’s decision to adopt President Obama’s plan marks a monumental shift toward government control of the Internet. It gives the FCC the power to micromanage virtually every aspect of how the Internet works. It’s an overreach that will let a Washington bureaucracy, and not the American people, decide the future of the online world?”.
Politico also quotes a statement from US House Speaker John Boehner saying: "Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet. More mandates and regulations on American innovation and entrepreneurship are not the answer, and that’s why Republicans will continue our efforts to stop this misguided scheme.”
Nearly 15 years ago, the FCC says the court observed that the Commission was ‘constrained its ability to protect against threats to the open Internet by a regulatory classification of broadband that precluded use of statutory protections that historically ensured the openness of telephone networks.’
So, says the FCC, ‘to respond to this changed landscape, the new Open Internet Order restores the FCC’s legal authority to fully address threats to openness on today’s networks by following a template for sustainability laid out in the D.C. Circuit Opinion itself, including reclassification of broadband Internet access as a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act.’
While the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet rules were limited in their applicability to mobile broadband, the new rules apply to both fixed and mobile broadband. There are also three Bright Line Rules which ‘ban practices that are known to harm the Open Internet’, and which also rule against ‘blocking and throttling’ which will ‘prohibit harmful practices that target specific applications or classes of applications’ which will ensure there will be ‘no fast lanes’.
The 'Bright Line' three rules are:
- 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 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.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritising content and services of their affiliates.
The FCC reports that other parts of the Order are as follows.
A Standard for Future Conduct: Because the Internet is always growing and changing, there must be a known standard by which to address any concerns that arise with new practices. The Order establishes that ISPs cannot “unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage” the ability of consumers to select, access, and use the lawful content, applications, services, or devices of their choosing; or of edge providers to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to consumers.
The FCC says 'today’s Order ensures that the Commission will have authority to address questionable practices on a case-by-case basis, and provides guidance in the form of factors on how the Commission will apply the standard in practice.'
Greater Transparency: The rules described above will restore the tools necessary to address specific conduct by broadband providers that might harm the Open Internet. But the Order recognises the critical role of transparency in a well-functioning broadband ecosystem. In addition to the existing transparency rule, which was not struck down by the court, the Order requires that broadband providers disclose, in a consistent format, promotional rates, fees and surcharges and data caps. Disclosures must also include packet loss as a measure of network performance, and provide notice of network management practices that can affect service.
To further consider the concerns of small ISPs, the Order adopts a temporary exemption from the transparency enhancements for fixed and mobile providers with 100,000 or fewer subscribers, and delegates authority to our Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau to determine whether to retain the exception and, if so, at what level. The Order also creates for all providers a “safe harbour” process for the format and nature of the required disclosure to consumers, which the Commission believes will lead to more effective presentation of consumer-focused information by broadband providers.
Reasonable Network Management: For the purposes of the rules, other than paid prioritisation, an ISP may engage in reasonable network management. This recognises the need of broadband providers to manage the technical and engineering aspects of their networks.
- In assessing reasonable network management, the Commission’s standard takes account of the particular engineering attributes of the technology involved—whether it be fibre, DSL, cable, unlicensed Wi-Fi, mobile, or another network medium.
- However, the network practice must be primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management—and not business—purpose. For example, a provider can’t cite reasonable network management to justify reneging on its promise to supply a customer with “unlimited” data.
Some data services do not go over the public Internet, and therefore are not “broadband Internet access” services (VoIP from a cable system is an example, as is a dedicated heart-monitoring service). The Order ensures that these services do not undermine the effectiveness of the Open Internet rules. Moreover, all broadband providers’ transparency disclosures will continue to cover any offering of such non-Internet access data services—ensuring that the public and the Commission can keep a close eye on any tactics that could undermine the Open Internet rules.
Interconnection: New Authority to Address Concerns For the first time the Commission can address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and other networks and services. Under the authority provided by the Order, the Commission can hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if it determines the interconnection activities of ISPs are not just and reasonable.
Legal Authority: Reclassifying Broadband Internet Access under Title II The Order provides the strongest possible legal foundation for the Open Internet rules by relying on multiple sources of authority including both Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. At the same time, the Order refrains – or forbears – from enforcing 27 provisions of Title II and over 700 associated regulations that are not relevant to modern broadband service. Together Title II and Section 706 support clear rules of the road, providing the certainty needed for innovators and investors, and the competitive choices and freedom demanded by consumers, while not burdening broadband providers with anachronistic utility-style regulations such as rate regulation, tariffs or network sharing requirements.
- First, the Order reclassifies “broadband Internet access service”—that’s the retail broadband service Americans buy from cable, phone, and wireless providers—as a telecommunications service under Title II. This decision is fundamentally a factual one. It recognises that today broadband Internet access service is understood by the public as a transmission platform through which consumers can access third-party content, applications, and services of their choosing. Reclassification of broadband Internet access service also addresses any limitations that past classification decisions placed on the ability to adopt strong open Internet rules, as interpreted by the D.C. Circuit in the Verizon case. And it supports the Commission’s authority to address interconnection disputes on a case-by-case basis, because the promise to consumers that they will be able to travel the Internet encompasses the duty to make the necessary arrangements that allow consumers to use the Internet as they wish.
- Second, the proposal finds further grounding in Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Notably, the Verizon court held that Section 706 is an independent grant of authority to the Commission that supports adoption of Open Internet rules. Using it here—without the limitations of the common carriage prohibition that flowed from earlier the “information service” classification—bolsters the Commission’s authority.
- Third, the Order’s provisions on mobile broadband also are based on Title III of the Communications Act. The Order finds that mobile broadband access service is best viewed as a commercial mobile service or its functional equivalent.
More information on the FCC's Open Internet Order is available here.