Net neutrality rules: Six key points

The Internet rules the Federal Communications Commission proposed Wednesday would apply to fixed and wireless broadband, regulate interconnection deals, and ban fast lanes. 

To cut through the jargon of telecommunications policy, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler called the proposal the “strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC."

Wheeler's proposal would reclassify broadband Internet like a utility, similar to traditional telephones. The stronger authority, recommended by President Obama, would ban service providers from blocking or slowing Internet traffic, while also blocking companies from negotiating deals for faster service. 

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While the FCC detailed its plan Wednesday, the hundreds of pages of regulations will not be released until after a vote on Feb. 26. And it could be tweaked before then as the commissioners deliberate. 

The rules meant to enforce the principles of net neutrality — the idea no piece of Internet traffic should be prioritized over another — have been a year in the making after previous rules were struck down in court last year. 

The proposal calls for the commission to reclassify the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act. Broadband Internet would be treated as a "telecommunications service," which comes with stricter regulations than its current designation as an "information service.” 

Below are six key portions of the plan.

 

FAST LANES

Advocates had called for reclassification in order to ban companies from negotiating deals for faster service. Advocates for strong rules said the commission's draft proposal last year did not go far enough, because it would leave open the possibility of "fast lane" deals if they were found to be commercially reasonable. 

The rules described Wednesday would ban Internet service providers such as Comcast and Verizon from charging web companies to prioritize their Internet traffic in exchange for a fee. Along with preventing service providers from blocking or slowing content, banning fast lanes was a key pillar of net neutrality principles.

The rules as described in an FCC fact sheet would also ban service providers from prioritizing Internet traffic belonging to any of their affiliates. But it would give leniency for "reasonable network management," so long as commercial benefits are not part of the equation.  

 

REGULATING FUTURE CONDUCT

The FCC described the Internet as constantly changing and pointed to the need for a broad standard to regulate future abuse. The FCC's fact sheet said the proposal contains a "general open Internet conduct standard" that would prevent Internet service providers from harming consumers or content providers. 

 

INTERCONNECTION 

For the first time, the FCC will have authority to review complaints about deals governing interconnection points. These points are where data is transferred from the backbone networks of the Internet to the last mile, where Internet service providers like Comcast route the content to customers.

Netflix has lamented that it has been forced to pay millions to service providers to relieve congestion at the points of interconnection in order to have its videos stream smoothly. It has been one of the biggest advocates for net rules to cover these deals. 

The interconnection deals were exempt from previous net neutrality rules. The commission will allow these deals to go forward, but it will be able to field complaints and take enforcement action against deals it determines are not "just and reasonable."

 

MOBILE BROADBAND

The rules announced Wednesday would apply to mobile broadband as well as fixed broadband. Previous rules exempted most mobile service from being regulated under previous net neutrality rules. But Wheeler's office noted the increased significance of mobile broadband, citing statistics that 55 percent of traffic is carried over wireless networks. 

The Wireless industry has argued that specific sections of the Communications Act bar mobile broadband from being regulated under utility style regulations. But the FCC says the order "persuasively rebuts" those claims. 

“We are concerned that the FCC’s proposed approach could jeopardize our world leading mobile broadband market and result in significant uncertainty for years to come because the FCC lacks congressional authority to impose Title II public utility regulation on mobile broadband services," CTIA-The Wireless Association said in a statement. 

  

FORBEARANCE

The FCC will not apply a number of provisions that go along with reclassification. Of the dozens of sections of regulations that apply to Title II, the FCC wants about 13 to apply to broadband service. 

The most important section would allow the commission to ban "unjust and unreasonable practices," which allows it to enforce the no blocking, throttling or "fast lane" principles.  Other sections that will apply relate to allowing consumer complaints, consumer privacy and protecting people with disabilities. The FCC will apply a section meant to boost broadband deployment by providing "fair access to poles and conduits."  

 

UNIVERSAL SERVICE FEES

The new rules will not require broadband providers to pay into an FCC fund that promotes Internet connectivity for poor, rural and otherwise needy people. Phone companies currently pay into that program, called the Universal Service Fund, and the charges are passed along to people through their monthly phone bill. But FCC officials said that those fees would not be extended to Web subscribers, even after reclassification.

The FCC pointed out that the Internet Tax Freedom Act also blocks state and local taxation on Internet service. But some have warned that many local fees would be exempt from that ban.