FCC Net Neutrality Vote Is Just The Beginning

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FCC Blackoutphoto © 2005 dougward | more info (via: Wylio)In a 3-2 vote split down party lines the FCC approved the first “enforceable” net neutrality regulations this morning. These rules face opposition from all sides, with some holding that FCC has overstepped its boundaries and others saying that the still unpublished framework does not offer enough protection.

“Given the importance of an open Internet to our economic future…it is essential that the FCC fulfill its historic role as a cop on the beat to ensure the vitality of our communications networks and to empower and protect consumers of those networks,” FCC commissioner Julian Genachowski said at the meeting.

The idea of the FCC as an Internet traffic cop does not sit well with many. FCC commissioner Robert McDowell, who voted against the rules, emphasized the divisiveness of about Genachowski’s proposition,“We agree that the Internet should remain open and freedom-enhancing…Beyond that, we disagree. The contrast between our perspectives could not be sharper.”

What was actually voted on today has still yet to be published, but according to reports it lays out two different frameworks for fixed broadband and mobile broadband traffic. In both cases carriers like Comcast or Verizon will need to provide transparency to customers and will be prohibited from blocking competing services such Google Voice or Skype.

The discrepancy between the way the two different services are handled and the precise meaning of “reasonable network management practices” is what has the opposition in a huff. Initial reports of the regulations describe them as explicitly forbidding providers to accept pay for unreasonable traffic prioritization in the case of broadband and offering no such protections in the case of mobile broadband.

If today’s vote has succeeded in anything it is in creating debate as to whether or not the FCC has ultimate authority to regulate Internet practices. Republicans have already started to make noise about blocking the regulations when a more Republican Congress takes over in January. McDowell has also hinted at potential blocks from courts “the F.C.C. has provocatively chartered a collision course with the legislative branch.”

This is not without precedent: A federal appeals court ruling against the FCC in April quashed the FCC’s authority as it attempted to enforce net neutrality principles against Comcast for discriminating against file sharing.

Verizon’s official reaction to today’s vote also underscored the fact that the FCC has an ongoing struggle on their hands, “This assertion of authority without solid statutory underpinnings will yield continued uncertainty for industry, innovators, and investors. In the long run, that is harmful to consumers and the nation.”

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