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The FCC's net neutrality rules: What we know so far

Grant Gross | March 2, 2015
The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to pass new net neutrality rules and reclassify broadband as a regulated telecommunications service, but the text of the full order may not be released for several weeks. Here's what we know so far:

The U.S. Federal Communications Commission voted Thursday to pass new net neutrality rules and reclassify broadband as a regulated telecommunications service, but the text of the full order may not be released for several weeks. Here's what we know so far:

What's next?

The new rules take effect 60 days after the full order is published in the Federal Register, the official journal of the U.S. government. The FCC has some procedural hoops to clear before publishing the text, including drafting responses to the dissents by the FCC's two Republican commissioners. So publication may not come for months.

Publication of the full text also triggers possible legal challenges to the order. Verizon Communications and AT&T have both hinted at lawsuits challenging the FCC's reclassification of broadband as a regulated public utility, but they have to wait for the FCC to publish the rules before filing those challenges.

When the FCC approved its last version of net neutrality rules, in late 2010, it took more that three years to resolve a court challenge by Verizon. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit struck down most of those 2010 rules in January 2014.

What's in the rules? Three prohibitions

The new regulations contain three so-called "bright-line" rules for U.S. broadband providers, including both wireline and mobile carriers. The first rule prohibits them from blocking subscriber access to legal Web content, applications, services and devices that don't harm the network.

The second rule prohibits broadband providers from impairing or degrading legal Internet traffic. And the third rule prohibits broadband providers from engaging in paid traffic prioritization arrangements. 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,'" according to an FCC fact sheet on the rules.

The first two prohibitions aren't particularly controversial. While net neutrality advocates point to a handful of cases where ISPs have tried to selectively block or throttle Internet traffic, major broadband providers have all said they have no plans to engage in those activities.

Some FCC critics have questioned the third rule, however, saying that broadband providers should be able to determine what traffic should get the highest priority. In some cases, a paid prioritization business model may make sense — for example, a medical imaging service paying an ISP a fee to prioritize its content, critics of the rule say.

"I'm open to exploring the opportunity that [paid prioritization deals] might be something that's beneficial," Republican Commissioner Michael O'Rielly said Thursday. "I don't want to prejudge it before we have some experience with it."

A new future conduct standard

 

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