The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has released the text of its orders for the Internet, offering specific definitions of the principles laid out earlier this week when it voted 3-2 to tighten regulations. The report and order also clarifies where the FCC says it gets the authority to make the rules in the first place.
In its report and order, the FCC says it has the authority under section 706 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which directs the agency to encourage deployment of advanced telecommunications. It also says it has the authority under Titles II, III and VI of the act, which relate to making sure that charges are reasonable and outline the FCC's jurisdiction over video and satellite services. It also claims authority under its mandate to manage spectrum licensing.
The rules fall under three basic principles: no unreasonable discrimination, no blocking and transparency.
Unreasonable discrimination is defined as anything that is use-agnostic. That is, if a broadband provider wants to charge more for heavy users that is reasonable. Charging more for streaming video from another network, or slowing down voice over Internet protocol connections when the broadband provider also offers telephone service, is considered anti-competitive. The Commission also noted that slowing traffic or restricting it based on content would also run afoul of the rules.
Pay for priority is also something the FCC says it is concerned about. Besides being a departure from historical practice, such arrangements could, the FCC says, stifle innovation on the Internet by raising the cost of entry for some businesses. Paying for priority would also discriminate against non-profits or individual bloggers. Even open Internet skeptics acknowledge that pay for priority may disadvantage non-commercial uses of the network, which are typically less able to pay for priority, and for which the Internet is a uniquely important platform, the rules document says.
The no blocking provisions say that neither fixed-line nor wireless providers can block any legal applications or content simply because it might compete with a service they provide. A local phone company could not block use of a Skype application, for example.
Notably, the FCC applied a lighter hand to wireless providers. In the report and order, it says that the wireless broadband industry is still new, so it chose to be more careful in crafting regulations. But it subjected the wireless providers to the no-blocking rule because it says that situations have come up in which a wireless provider tried to block a competing offering.
Transparency is probably the simplest of the three principles to implement, as all it asks is that broadband providers disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and terms and conditions of their broadband services. This will probably have a bigger impact on developers and people building new technologies, as part of that transparency rule is designed so that network operators will tell builders how to get their devices certified.
Under the new order, consumers can file a complaint, free of charge, to the FCC. The Commission also has the right to initiate an investigation.