FCC Votes in Favor of Net Neutrality

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ruled to adopt a series of Open Internet rules, otherwise known as the order for Net Neutrality, on Feb. 26. The order is intended to better regulate broadband service providers nationwide to prevent client exploitation. Last week, on March 12, the FCC released a 400 page document, publicly available on their website, detailing these rules and their ramifications in more detail.

As the official release explains in its introduction, the FCC aims to create an Internet medium that is open to growth and accessible for all users. According to the FCC, with the growing popularity of mobile broadband networks (such as 4G LTE), as well as widespread online video streaming, it is more important than ever to stop companies from “unreasonable interference to consumers.” These practices include monopolizing, deceiving, and overcharging.

The FCC is an independent agency granted authority by Congress over all Internet service providers (ISPs), as well as other communications services such as radio and television. However, in Jan. 2011, Verizon sued the FCC, claiming that with their Open Internet Order of 2010, the FCC did not have the right to govern how the company provided their services. In Jan. 2014, the D.C. circuit court ruled in Verizon’s favor, stating that because cable and broadband were classified as “information services” and not “telecommunications services,” more rules were necessary.

In the following months, several grassroots campaigns were launched over the Internet, which flooded the FCC with calls and letters. In Nov. 2014, President Obama voiced his support of net neutrality. At the beginning of 2015, the FCC began talks to classify broadband service providers like common carrier telephone networks—as a Title II telecommunications service. On Feb. 26, the vote was passed 3-2.

The new order is summarized by the FCC in three “Bright Line Rules”: No Blocking, No Throttling, and No Paid Prioritization. These rules significantly impact the extent to which providers can control their clients’ access of Internet content. For example, the rule on throttling prevents providers from intentionally slowing data access to clientele that use the most data per month. Perhaps most noticeably, ISPs can no longer create “fast lanes” available only to higher-paying, priority clients. The updated 2015 order will also require more transparent public disclosure reports by companies on the services they offer, as well as official FCC appeals whenever they want to restrict user access.

Critics of the FCC’s ruling claim that cable providers may react to a decrease in overall competition by charging higher prices, and that the new regulations could lead to higher taxes. The exact effect the rules will have on startup companies has also been debated, with some believing that startups will benefit from the fewer monopolies, and others believing they will decline due to higher federal restrictions. Finally, the rule on blocking potentially has human rights implications, as it could impact ISPs’ ability to create “walled gardens,” which offer limited access to the Internet for free to low-income users worldwide.

Chattanooga in particular is impacted by the new net neutrality rules because of its citywide Electric Power Board coverage, which has gained national attention in the last few years and earned Chattanooga the nickname “Gig City.” The new federal 2015 order overrules pre-existing state law and regulations, including those that prevented EPB from expanding its service into other counties across the state.

The new rules will take place two months after they are published in the Federal Register.