New FCC Internet rules differentiate by service, not technology

14 March 2015 by Steve Blum
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Everyone is on the same common carrier track.

The new, common carrier rules released on Thursday by the FCC apply to all Internet service providers, including mobile, satellite, fixed wireless, telephone and cable companies. There’s some fine tuning where technical details are concerned, particularly regarding mobile broadband companies, but for the most part, Internet service is Internet service, regardless of technology.

As promised, the new rules specifically state that no blocking, no throttling and no paid prioritisation by ISPs will be allowed. In general, ISPs…

Shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage (i) end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or (ii) edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule.

The FCC’s decision tries to draw a tight circle around what reasonable network management might be…

A network management practice is a practice that has a primarily technical network management justification, but does not include other business practices. A network management practice is reasonable if it is primarily used for and tailored to achieving a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account the particular network architecture and technology of the broadband Internet access service

For a practice to even be considered under this exception, a broadband Internet access service provider must first show that the practice is primarily motivated by a technical network management justification rather than other business justifications.

Consumer protection, transparency and complaint rules are included, although small ISPs – those with fewer than 100,000 subscribers – are temporarily exempt from some requirements.

The 400 page ruling generally avoids regulating retail prices or service plans, although some current practices, such as data caps, will get a hard look if anyone complains. There is a thicket of detail created by the FCC’s choice to forbear from imposing that sort of micro-management via common carrier rules. The way the decision weaves in and out of the long list of legacy telephone regulations, including universal service requirements and pole attachment rights, leaves a lot of unanswered questions and will keep lawyers and lobbyists gleefully employed for many years to come.