In a party-line three-to-two vote, today the FCC passed open internet rules that reclassifies internet service as a public utility.
Here are some key provisions of the Open Internet Order that are of particular interest to consumers and internet broadcasters. It’s important to note that these provisions apply equally to mobile broadband–3G, 4G and LTE–as they do to cable modem, DSL or wi-fi services. In upcoming posts we’ll address what this means for services like T-Mobile’s “music freedom” plan that gives selective advantages to some, but not all, streaming music and radio services.
The first three rules ban practices that are known to harm the Open Internet. These are as relevant to live internet radio or podcasts as they do to streaming movies, online games and social networks.
- 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 Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor 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 prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.
These rules also prohibit blocking or throttling of traffic that target specific applications or classes of applications.
No Unreasonable Interference
The Order establishes a “standard for future conduct,” which establishes that ISPs cannot “unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage” consumers’s ability to access or use access lawful content, applications, services or devices with their internet service. Instead of instituting blanket rules on how this standard is applied, the FCC will address complaints on a case-by-case basis.
The Commission will require ISPs to be more transparent, by disclosing promotional rates, fees, surcharges and data caps, along with reports on network performance based on packet loss and notification of any network management practices that can affect the quality of service.
With regard to this latter point, the Commission will permit ISPs to engage in “reasonable network management,” but only if it is “tailored to achieving a legitimate network management–and not business–purpose.” That means an ISP can’t renege on an unlimited data guarantee using network management as a cover.
Even if you’re a big Spotify or Pandora user, streaming music all day long, if the terms of your internet plan give you the data, then you can stream away.
Under this order the FCC can also address concerns regarding the exchange of internet traffic between providers and networks. This might include complaints by Netflix that Comcast was throttling its service to home users, or concerns that a particular broadcaster’s live streams are being selectively slowed or stopped by a network somewhere in between the broadcaster and the listener.
Title II — Internet Is a Telecommunications Service
This is the change that permits the FCC to exert the authority for all of these rules. In essence, the Commission was following the advice of the Court of Appeals which basically told the agency that there was no splitting the baby–in order to implement real Open Internet rules the service had to be classified as a public utility.
While the FCC will be regulating the free flow of information and data on the internet, it will not be regulating rates or how internet service is bundled with other services for the consumer.
There will certainly be more discussion and examination in the coming days and weeks as the full text circulates and different players weigh in.