FCC Votes In Favor of Supporting Net Neutrality, Municipal Broadband

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After an extraordinarily long slog, the FCC voted in favor of passing strong net neutrality rules and in support of municipal broadband networks during its much anticipated February 26 meeting.  Predictably, Verizon and other ISPs have already said they will appeal the vote in the court system to ensure Americans keep paying more for less.

Net Neutrality

“Today, the Commission—once and for all—enacts strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future.  These new rules are guided by three principles: America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open—principles shared by the overwhelming majority of the nearly 4 million commenters who participated in the FCC’s Open Internet proceeding,” the FCC said in its statement on the vote.

The statement also outlines three “Bright-line rules” for net neutrality:

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. The bright-line rules against blocking and throttling will prohibit harmful practices that target specific applications or classes of applications.  And the ban on paid prioritization ensures that there will be no fast lanes.

Notably, the FCC has also created the authority to deal with challenges from interconnectivity – an important recognition as networks become more connected to each other and more complex. According to the statement, “for the first time the Commission can address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and other networks and services. Under the authority provided by the Order, the Commission can hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if it determines the interconnection activities of ISPs are not just and reasonable.”

Verizon, an opponent of the open internet released a post on its public policy blog in Morse Code, that when translated looks like a fax and says “Today (Feb. 26) the Federal Communications Commission approved an order urged by President Obama that imposes rules on broadband Internet services that were written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph.”  The company has already said court action is forthcoming.

Speaker Boehner maintained the hyperbole by releasing a statement saying, “Overzealous government bureaucrats should keep their hands off the Internet. Today, three appointed by President Obama approved a secret plan to put the federal government in control of the Internet.”  He further complained that final rules which are awaiting input from the dissenters and won’t likely be available for months are being “hidden” from the American people.

Municipal Broadband

When it comes to municipal broadband, the FCC has also sided with the two petitioning municipalities- Wilson, North Carolina and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In a separate statement the FCC summed up the situation for both cities like this: “Tennessee law allows municipal electric systems like EPB to provide telecommunications services anywhere in the state, but limits provision of Internet and cable services to the electrical system footprint. In North Carolina, a 2011 law imposed numerous conditions that effectively precluded Wilson from expanding broadband into neighboring counties, even if requested. One condition, for example, restricted expansion into areas where the private sector delivers service at speeds as slow as 768 kbps in the faster direction – an archaic standard that fails to support modern needs and is a fraction of the FCC’s 25/3 Mbps benchmark.”

Based on this the FCC voted to allow both municipalities to expand their networks despite local laws. “The Order concludes that preemption will speed broadband investment, increase competition, and serve the public interest,” the statement said.

Baller Herbst Stokes & Lide, lead counsel to Wilson and EPB in their proceedings before the FCC, issued a statement in response to the vote noting – “As FCC Chairman Thomas Wheeler stated at today’s hearing, “You can’t say you’re for following Congress’s explicit instructions to remove barriers to broadband investment and then turn around endorse restrictions on such investments.   You can’t say you’re for competition and then turn around and deny local governments the ability to provide competitive services.  As they say in North Carolina, ‘That dog don’t hunt.’”

“Barriers to local Internet choice, such as the North Carolina and Tennessee laws that the Commission has removed today, are bad for America’s communities, bad for the private sector, particularly high-technology companies, and bad for America’s global competitiveness.”