FCC Net Neutrality Rule Passes; Franken Reacts

The FCC officially approved rules that reportedly provide net neutrality protections to wireline Internet but not wireless services, and which include a host of loopholes for both types of service.

We don’t actually know the full extent of the rules, as they have not been published (the FCC promises to do so this week). But we know the broad outlines. Wireline providers would not be allowed to block access to sites and applications. But wireless companies would have the ability to limit access to services. Plus, there would be a “reasonable network management” standard that could be used to give preferential treatment to certain content. What’s more, “paid prioritization,” where companies can purchase faster treatment of their content, is not explicitly banned by this rule (Genachowski said the FCC “was not approving” paid prioritization either). And, the rule allows providers to charge for broadband usage, which will lead to the kind of tiered pricing that we see in cable service (many charge that this is reasonable for a utility like the Internet).

Al Franken, who has been the loudest Senator on these issues, offered this reaction to the passage in the FCC. He refers to some “improvements” on Julius Genachowski’s original net neutrality draft, but we don’t really know what they are yet.

“The FCC’s action today is simply inadequate to protect consumers or preserve the free and open Internet. I am particularly disappointed to learn that the order will not specifically ban paid prioritization, allowing big companies to pay for a fast lane on the Internet and abandoning the foundation of net neutrality. The rule also contains almost no protections for mobile broadband service, remaining silent on the blocking of content, applications, and devices. Wireless technology is the future of the Internet, and for many rural Minnesotans, it’s often the only choice for broadband.

“I appreciate the efforts of Commissioners Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, and of net neutrality advocates nationwide, who have all worked tirelessly to improve this rule. Although it doesn’t go far enough, I commend the Commission for listening to our concerns and making a number of improvements since the draft order was circulated. I’m particularly encouraged by the inclusion of language cautioning that the FCC’s silence on certain kinds of discriminatory behavior by wireless carriers doesn’t tacitly condone it. While this is far from adequate, it stops us from taking a step backward.

“The FCC must now vigorously enforce what is in the new order and keep its promise of addressing the wireless issue in the near future. I will continue to hold the agency’s feet to the fire, ensuring it uses its full authority to keep the Internet free and open. And going forward, I will be looking at all legislative and administrative options to strengthen these protections.”

The most likely next venue for these rules is the courts. The Republicans reject any rulemaking over the Internet whatsoever, basically turning it into a free-fire zone for the telecoms. Mitch McConnell denounced the FCC action today. Crucially, the FCC did not reclassify broadband as a telecommunications service, which gives opponents the ability to sue in court over the ability for the FCC to regulate. If the ruling comes down similar to last year’s Comcast ruling, then this whole rule could get thrown out. Without a consensus on the legislative side either, we’re looking at years of wrangling here. In the meantime, many of the loopholes offered by this rule can be blown wide open by the telecom industry.

More from Wilson Rothman (I don’t fully endorse this, but I found the piece interesting).

UPDATE: The Writers Guild of America, East released this statement:

A compromise means the parties to a dispute reach agreement. Here, no one has agreed to anything. These tepid rules will be challenged in court and in Congress, and they fail in the most fundamental ways – permitting paid prioritization and all manner of discrimination in wireless.  

Our members write most of what people watch on television and in the movie theaters and increasingly, online.  Today’s FCC vote will diminish our members’ ability to create and distribute innovative content and audiences’ ability to watch the content of their choice.

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