Although the FCC voted along partisan lines Tuesday to pass a network neutrality order, it wasn't until hours later that the public got to see glimpses of what was passed.
Hours after the vote the FCC posted several "key excerpts" from the order on its Web site. The final order is still being written and will likely be posted over the next few days, as the commission still has to iron out concerns from members who voted for the order but also dissented on some parts.
So what does this order mean for Internet access? The short version is that it makes fixed broadband services neutral, it leaves mobile broadband operators a lot of maneuverability in managing their networks and it takes a wait-and-see approach to carriers' plans to develop specialized IP-based services that are separate from the public Internet.
The FCC says that it isn't applying the same requirements on wireless Internet service because "mobile broadband presents special considerations that suggest differences in how and when open Internet protections should apply." Thus, the FCC has settled on taking "measured steps" to ensure very limited network neutrality restrictions that only cover access to Web sites and to competing applications. The FCC says nothing about wireless carriers slowing or degrading traffic to targeted Web sites or applications.
This agreement, said officials, would put in place three high-level rules for service providers, i.e. cable and telecommunications companies. The first, dubbed “Robust transparency”, calls for providers of both fixed and mobile broadband to clearly disclose their bandwidth management policies to consumers and application developers.
The second, called the “No blocking rule,” prohibits fixed broadband providers from blocking content but allows “reasonable network management.” Mobile broadband providers get a lighter version of the policy. They are simply forbidden from blocking competing voice and videoconferencing services.
The third rule appears to overlap with the second. It says that fixed broadband providers can’t levy “unreasonable discrimination” against outside applications. An FCC official summarized this last rule as “No picking winners and losers [on a particular network].” Overall, the policies reach beyond the FCC’s original Net Neutrality principles, which were struck down in the so-called Comcast decision earlier this year.
The passage will mark the FCC’s first time to adopt enforceable rules related to Net Neutrality, and because this concept is fairly new, the FCC says it will simply monitor how such services develop to ensure they aren't "in any way retarding the growth of or constricting capacity available for broadband Internet access service." The FCC also says it expects broadband providers to "disclose information about specialized services' impact, if any, on last-mile capacity available for... broadband Internet service access." Additionally, the FCC expects that carriers will "increase capacity offered for broadband Internet access service" if they choose to expand their network for more specialized services.
Less clear are the exact definition of the term broadband, the penalties for flouting these rules and what transpired over the past three weeks as companies and lobbyists sought to shape the policies to their liking.
This opens up the question of what happens if these additional services become so intertwined with the regular Internet that the two become indistinguishable. For instance, let's say FiOS incorporates Hulu as an application of its fiber-based television services, thus letting users re-watch reruns of their favorite shows on demand. Won't this by definition be giving favorable treatment to a preferred Web site at the expense of others? The FCC has decided for now that this particular concern can wait to be addressed another day.
The FCC's action, in a 3-2 vote comes as consumers are increasingly using broadband Internet connections for both wired and wireless devices to watch TV shows, movies, video snippets and the ever present online gamers.
"The FCC acted out of fear that some isolated instances of telecommunications companies restricting access to phone and other services from competitors would become more frequent. And that could change the Internet for the worse", said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski.
As a FCC licensed radio operator (HAM) I tell you that these latest actions taken by the FCC are over and above the "call of duty".
NFTOS believes that these new regulations are a radical and illegal revision to federal policy.
Hold on to your hats here readers, as its a cold day in hell when we agree with righties, but Robert McDowell, a Republican FCC commissioner, Penned it best by saying ""On this winter solstice, we will witness jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah as the FCC bypasses branches of our government in the dogged pursuit of needless and harmful regulation," McDowell wrote. "The darkest day of the year may end up marking the beginning of a long winter's night for Internet freedom."
McDowell called the proposed net neutrality rules a "threat to Internet freedom," arguing,
"Nothing is broken and needs fixing, however. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist. Furthermore, the Obama Justice Department and the European Commission both decided this year that net-neutrality regulation was unnecessary and might deter investment in next-generation Internet technology and infrastructure."
As a business owner whom relies hugely on the Internet I tell you this vote weakened this most powerful tool. Tuesday the FCC deflated, marred and scored the main link in the chain.
Certainly there are times when the Government needs to stand clear of meddling, and in this instance its that time for Big Daddy to keep his hands out of the cookie jar.