Don’t call them “utility” rules: The FCC’s net

neutrality regime, explained
Not the end of the world: What Tom Wheeler’s proposal will and won’t do.
by Jon Brodkin - Feb 4 2015, 7:19pm EST

Computer History Museum

Within a few weeks we’ll have a huge document full of legalese on the Federal Communications Commission’s
net neutrality rules, to replace the near-200-page order from 2010 that was mostly overturned by a court ruling
last year.
FURTHER READING

MAKING THE INTERNET A UTILITY—WHAT’S THE WORST THAT COULD
HAPPEN?
A cable lobby lawyer reveals the industry’s darkest fears.
But there are enough details in the 4-page summary of FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal released today
for us to tell you in general terms what it does and doesn’t do. FCC officials also provided further background
in a phone call with reporters today. One thing they were clear on: this isn’t “utility-style regulation,” because
there will be no rate regulation, Internet service providers (ISPs) won’t have to file tariffs, and there’s no
unbundling requirement that would force ISPs to lease network access to competitors.
But the order does reclassify ISPs as common carriers, regulating them under Title II of the Communications
Act, the same statute that governs telephone companies. ISPs will not be allowed to block or throttle Internet
content, nor will they be allowed to prioritize content in exchange for payments. The rules will apply to home
Internet service such as cable, DSL, and fiber, and to mobile broadband networks generally accessed with
smartphones.
Internet providers will be common carriers in their relationships with home Internet and mobile broadband
customers; they will also be common carriers in their relationships with companies that deliver content to
subscribers over the networks operated by ISPs. That includes online content providers such as Amazon or
Netflix.
The rules apply only to retail Internet providers, those that offer consumers the ability to access the Internet.
They do not regulate Web applications or other network operators. Content delivery networks like Akamai,
which improve performance by optimizing delivery of content across the Internet, would not be affected by the
paid prioritization ban.
Here’s a more detailed look at what kinds of rules both fixed and mobile broadband providers will and won’t
have to follow (assuming the commission approves Wheeler’s plan on Feb. 26).

Three “bright line rules”
The ban on blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization is the biggest takeaway. “Broadband providers may not
block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices… may not impair or degrade lawful
Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices... [and] may not favor
some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration—in other words, no ‘fast

lanes. which “will continue to cover any offering of such non-Internet data services—ensuring that the public and the Commission can keep a close eye on any tactics that could undermine the Open Internet rules. the court did not object to requirements that ISPs tell the public about their network management practices. the FCC is not taking any stance on specific programs provided today. T-Mobile exempts certain music services from caps. Transparency Though the 2010 order’s anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules were thrown out because of a lawsuit filed by Verizon. AT&T is charging companies for the right to deliver data without counting against customers’ caps. Cellular providers have been experimenting with “zero-rating. Possible loophole? “Reasonable network management” Net neutrality advocates have worried that exceptions to anti-discrimination rules would render them meaningless. “the proposal would create a general Open Internet conduct standard that ISPs cannot harm consumers or edge providers.” the FCC said. The matter will be handled on a case-by-case basis to determine whether a zero-rating program hinders competition for "over-the-top" services. VoIP phone service offered by a cable provider is one example. In the net neutrality order. but without charging anyone. While not fully defined in the fact sheet. but the proposal would let the FCC intervene when caps are used to harm consumers or competitors.” A standard to cover unforeseen misbehavior Just in case ISPs come up with some new way of creating a non-neutral Internet. there will be a “standard for future conduct” that would help the FCC determine whether new practices should be allowed.'" the FCC said. Data caps There’s no ban on data caps. These exceptions don’t change the transparency requirements. but did not commit to banning any particular type of practice. another is a heart-monitoring service that doesn’t use the public Internet.’ This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.” which “recognizes the need of broadband providers to manage the technical and engineering aspects of their networks. but the fact sheet didn’t say exactly how the rules will be different.” But ISPs cannot claim “reasonable network management” in order to meet a business need. Wheeler is allowing for “reasonable network management. The core provisions of Title II banning “unjust and unreasonable practices” will be used to enforce these rules. FCC officials on the call with reporters seemed less concerned about data exemptions that occur without payment than those that require payment. those provided over an Internet connection. Some data services that don’t go over the public Internet will be largely exempt from Title II oversight. a provider can’t cite reasonable network management to justify reneging on its promise to supply a customer with ‘unlimited’ data. ISPs will face greater disclosure requirements in the new proposal.” Netflix’s favorite part: interconnection disputes . “For example.” letting consumers access certain services without using up their data allotments.

unbundling. The net neutrality proposal doesn’t ban these agreements. which subsidizes telecommunications projects in underserved areas. New taxes and fees? Nope Some Title II opponents tried to convince the FCC that Title II would bring $15 billion in new user fees per year.” ISPs have complained that forbearance is too onerous a process but the FCC made it sound pretty simple: the commission simply won’t apply things like rate regulation. and some we haven’t yet mentioned will apply. thus allowing it to address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between massmarket broadband providers and edge providers. It’s not clear how much this will really help.” the FCC said. “The Order will not impose. Google had a dispute with AT&T over pole access in Austin. rights-of-way. There will also be “no burdensome administrative filing requirements or accounting standards. That’s simply not true. making it easier for Google Fiber to enter new markets.” Besides companies like Netflix. That will proceed independently of the Title II decision. privacy protections.” a cable industry lawyer explained to Ars. or new taxes and fees. as required by Congress. While USF fees won’t be applied because of this order. The FCC said it would enforce the part of Title II that “ensures fair access to poles and conduits” to help new broadband providers. the FCC could keep the entire Universal Service Fund the same size. suggest or authorize any new taxes or fees. causing millions of households to stop subscribing to Internet service. Texas. Google gets what it wanted: Pole access Google asked the FCC to enforce Title II rules guaranteeing access to poles. and other infrastructure controlled by utilities. Forbearance As noted earlier. so that surcharges on broadband would be offset by reductions in surcharges on phone lines. and protections for people with disabilities. content delivery networks such as Akamai or transit providers such as Cogent could bring complaints to the FCC. These include investigations of consumer complaints.” the commission said. but the companies settled and Google doesn’t seem to have been shut out of any market because of pole attachment problems. These connections ensure a smooth path into the network but don’t provide any priority thereafter. FCC officials noted that they have already begun a separate proceeding on USF funding that could ultimately put a USF charge on customers’ bills. The moratorium on Internet taxation will continue. Today’s order does not require broadband providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund (USF).Netflix and some other companies have complained about the prices ISPs charge for direct network connections. the FCC said it will boost “universal service fund support for broadband service in the future through partial application” of the USF portion of Title II. similar to the USF charges on telephone bills. And broadband providers could actually end up paying higher pole attachment rates than they did before because “how you’re classified affects what you have to pay. the FCC plan is to avoid imposing the strictest portions of Title II in a legal process known as “forbearance. Other Title II provisions that will apply to ISPs There are dozens of sections in Title II. but gives the FCC “authority to hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if necessary. the FCC said. But even so. The . if it determines the interconnection activities of ISPs are not just and reasonable.

.FCC will have to pick up some of the consumer protection functions performed by the Federal Trade Commission. including more than $270 billion in building out their wireless networks. proving that modernized Title II regulation can support investment and competition.000 percent. but the FCC pointed to past experience to argue that it won’t.” the FCC said. It isn’t the end of the world—really ISPs have argued that Title II will bring certain doom to the broadband industry. During the period between 1993 and 2009. Though Title II hasn’t applied to wireless data before. and that industry is thriving. carriers invested heavily. an increase of nearly 2.” the FCC said. it does apply to wireless voice. “When Title II was first applied to mobile.” Broadband will actually face fewer Title II provisions than cellular voice. voice was the predominant mobile service. “For 21 years the wireless industry has been governed by Title II-based rules that forbear from traditional phone company regulation. which is prohibited from taking actions against telecommunications common carriers. “The wireless industry has invested over $400 billion under similar rules.