As FCC Releases Net Neutrality Rules, Battle Lines Form
Supporters of internet freedom must now defend sweeping reforms from industry attacks, say advocates
Two weeks after the Federal Communications Commission passed a historic set of rules to protect the open internet, opponents of net neutrality have begun scrutinizing the full text of the rules, released Thursday, in likely anticipation of legal action against the FCC.
Critics relentlessly called for the FCC's rules to be overturned or tempered in the year that the commission developed its policies. The opposition included lobbyists for the cable and Internet Service Provider (ISP) industries, as well as Republicans in Congress and on the FCC itself.
On Thursday, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association said the 313-page document, of which the rules take up eight, "only confirms our fear that the commission has gone well beyond creating enforceable open internet rules, and has instead instituted a regulatory regime change for the internet that will lead to years of litigation, serious collateral consequences for consumers, and ongoing market uncertainty that will slow America’s quest to advance broadband deployment and adoption."
As FCC chairman Tom Wheeler wrote in his summary of the report, some of the most sweeping changes outlined in the document include:
- Ban Paid Prioritization: "Fast lanes" will not divide the Internet into "haves" and "havenots."
- Ban Blocking: Consumers must get what they pay for – unfettered access to any lawful content on the Internet.
- Ban Throttling: Degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking and will not be permitted.
These rules do not sit well with industries that benefited from years of more lax oversight. Lobbyists charged that the new regulations would give the FCC too much power over the internet and could stifle innovation.
And in Congress, pro-industry Republicans made similar statements. Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) last week introduced a new bill that would ban the FCC's rules and prevent them from making new ones under the guise of protecting consumers and small internet businesses.
According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the last election cycle, Blackburn received roughly $80,000 in donations from a number of cable company PACs, including the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, as well as Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T.
Roger Entner, a telecommunications expert, told the New York Times on Thursday that the new rules were celebrated by industry lawyers, but not necessarily because they favored protecting the internet. "Telecom lawyers in Washington popped the corks on the champagne," he said. "It will be at a least a hundred million in billable hours for them. This will go on for a while."
The FCC has defended its policies and sought to clarify what it said were misleading claims. "The order bars the kinds of tariffing, rate regulation, unbundling requirements and administrative burdens that are the hallmarks of traditional utility regulation," officials said last month before passing the rules. "No broadband provider will need to get the FCC's approval before offering any price, product or plan."
Meanwhile, organizations that supported net neutrality reform maintained that the new rules were a result of grassroots organizing, "not a regulator's power grab."
"Blackburn's bill isn't the only thing happening in Congress on net neutrality," Free Press internet campaign director Candace Clement wrote in a blog post on Tuesday. "There are already five hearings scheduled on everything from the process the FCC used to write the rules to the agency’s budget for implementing them.
"The people's net neutrality victory at the FCC was historic," she added. "Now we need to defend it from these kinds of attacks."