The Federal Communications Commission has officially filed its controversial net neutrality rules with the Federal Register and, barring any legal challenges, they will go into effect on Nov. 20.
Don't expect the new rules to go unchallenged, however.
Net neutrality is the idea that a consumer should be able to access any Internet service or content they choose via PC, phone, or tablet, completely unimpeded. The FCC's proposed regulations prevent Internet service providers from arbitrarily slowing or blocking data traffic, which many companies do for the sake of managing traffic congestion or experimenting with new business models.
The new rules also require broadband providers to disclose their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms. Furthermore, broadband providers cannot block content or services, and cannot unreasonably discriminate in transmitting network traffic.
Companies are extremely concerned about net neutrality going into effect, because billions of company dollars are at stake. The battle has seen many twists and turns since being originally brought up in 2006 by then-FCC chairman Michael Powell, who spoke about preserving Internet freedom. In the next five years, the FCC introduced bills and censured companies, doing everything in its power to bring equality to broadband Internet.
After being repeatedly rejected by Congress, the FCC's latest set of rules were narrowly passed by a slim 3-2 margin last December, yet the vague filing didn't include any protection for mobile Internet access.
Democratic FCC chairman Julius Genachowski is in favor of the new rules. He believes they will be good for business and job stimulation.
On one end of the spectrum there are those who say government should do nothing at all, Genachowski says. On the other end of the spectrum are those who would adopt a set of detailed and rigid regulations. I reject both extremes in favor of a strong and sensible framework-one that protects Internet freedom and openness and promotes robust innovation and investment.
Conversely, Republican commissioner Robert McDowell voted against the new rules and still hates the idea:
On this winter solstice, we will witness jaw-dropping interventionist chutzpah as the FCC bypasses branches of our government in the dogged pursuit of needless and harmful regulation, McDowell wrote in a December op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. The darkest day of the year may end up marking the beginning of a long winter's night for Internet freedom.
Several providers, including Verizon and MetroPCS, filed lawsuits earlier this year against the FCC's proposed rules, but were rebuked by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, saying the actions were premature. Verizon claimed that the FCC doesn't have the authority to regulate broadband. The court rejected the claims because the rules had not yet been finalized and filed in the Federal Register.
Now that they have, however, these companies and others are expected to revive their lawsuits. A Verizon representative told The Washington Post it doesn't yet have a firm plans to file another suit.
The outcome of these lawsuits will largely depend on which court hears the case. For example, the conservative D.C. Appeals court, which once brought the hammer down on the FCC when it attempted to censure Comcast, sees the FCC's power as limited.