In a split vote the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) imposed rules proposed by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski which he says prohibits Internet providers from blocking access to legal websites.
by J. J. Smith
The controversial “Open Internet” rules—better known as “net neutrality”—seek to strike a balance between the interests of Internet service providers, content companies and consumers, said Genachowski, who, along with the other Democratic appointees Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, voted for the Open Internet rules.
The rules require Internet providers to ensure “transparency” regarding the “network management practices, performance and commercial terms of its broadband Internet access services.” Providers are also required to “not block lawful content,” and “applications that compete with the provider’s voice or video telephone services,” and “shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.”
However, Copps and Clyburn reluctantly voted for the Open Internet rules, both saying the order did not go far enough. “There is more that I would have liked in this order. I would have preferred a general ban to discourage broadband providers from engaging in ‘pay for priority’—prioritizing the traffic of those with deep pockets while consigning the rest of us to a slower, second-class Internet,” Copps said.
“I also believe we should have done more to strip loopholes from the definition of ‘broadband Internet access service’ to prevent companies falsely claiming they are not broadband companies from slipping through,” Copps added.
Clyburn said, “There are several areas in the order I would have strengthened so that more consumers would benefit from the protections we are adopting. First, I would have extended all of the fixed rules to mobile, so that those consumers who heavily or exclusively rely upon mobile broadband would be fully protected.
“There is evidence in our record that some communities, namely African American and Hispanic, use and rely upon mobile Internet access much more than other socio-economic groups. While this order does not go as far as I would like in protecting mobile consumers, I am pleased that it is quite clear that we are not pre-approving any actions by mobile providers that would violate the fixed rules and the general principles of Internet openness.”
Opposing the rule were Republican appointees, Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker.
McDowell said he was voting against the rules because of “four primary concerns.” They are:
- Nothing is broken in the Internet access market that needs fixing.
- The FCC does not have the legal authority to issue these rules.
- The proposed rules are likely to cause irreparable harm.
- Existing law and Internet governance structures provide ample consumer protection in the event a systemic market failure occurs.
Baker provided a list of seven reasons she opposes the order. They are:
- The importance of regulatory certainty.
- There is no factual basis to support government intervention (of the Internet).
- Consumers will not benefit from net neutrality.
- The order may inhibit the development of tomorrow’s Internet.
- The commission is miscast as the Internet’s referee.
- The commission lacks authority to adopt net neutrality rules.
- The commission acts improperly as a quasi-legislative body.
- The order will likely face court challenges.
Nonetheless, Genachowski said “the openness of the Internet cannot be taken for granted and that it faces real threats,” including from broadband providers who “endanger” the openness of the Internet by “blocking or degrading disfavored content and applications without disclosing their practices to consumers.” In addition, the chairman citied Republican predecessors to support approving the rules, saying, “The rules of the road we adopt today are rooted in ideas first articulated by Republican Chairmen Michael Powell and Kevin Martin, and endorsed in a unanimous FCC policy statement in 2005.”