The FCC Releases the Full Text of It's New Net Neutrality Rules -- an Overview

The US Federal Communications Commission finally released it's finalized set of new regulations that encompass internet service providers, wireless carriers, and internet backbone carriers. The new rules are designed to restore the net neutrality authority that the FCC lost by legislative challenge in 2013.

The FCC seeks to restore its authority by reclassifying the internet as a utility, also known as "Title II Reclassification" which is what advocates for net neutrality overwhelmingly desired.

The full text is available here (warning, it is 400 pages of government-grade legalese):

We will provide a broad overview and the best layman explanations below.

All internet providers and carriers are subject to Title II - The reclassification makes it so that all types of internet connectivity are covered under the same set of rules. There are no segments that are exempted from it. One of the major fears of advocates was that wireless carriers would be exempted from the reclassification. This is not the case. Everyone is under the same set of rules.

Carriers are entitled "reasonable network management" - This means that they will still have the power to firewall and throttle services that actually threaten the integrity of the network, such as DDoS attacks. They are specifically required to justify "commercially reasonable" changes to their network's behavior in the form of transparency reports.

Blocking, Throttling, and Paid Prioritization are now specifically illegal - If any company takes action in which they shape or throttle traffic, they are now required legally to justify the action and why it is critical to the operation of the infrastructure they are operating. It prohibits the degrading of Internet traffic based on source, destination, or content.

Small ISPs are exempt from the rules until December 2015 - Internet providers with less than 100,000 subscribers are temporarily exempt from these rules to prevent the rule changes from causing them damaging costs and harming their business.

It covers future, unknown internet technologies - There are specific provisions that say that any service that offers internet connectivity, regardless of method, will fall under these rules.

VPN services are exempt from net neutrality - This means that VPN providers can shape and limit traffic without restriction. This is to protect site-to-site VPNs (the most common use of a VPN) from unreasonable rules and regulations.

Dial-up services are exempt from net neutrality - I'm not sure why they did this one. It is likely because dial-up doesn't fall under "broadband".

The FCC will specifically hear complaints and disputes on a case-by-case basis

Data caps that involve throttling MUST be disclosed to the customer - This is in response to recent actions by Verizon Wireless to throttle users who hit a certain cap while on an unrestricted "unlimited data" plan. Verizon later reversed the action. Comcast has also been reported to be doing this for customers who use excessive bandwidth without disclosing it to customers on sign-up.

No fees, taxes, or tariffs will be levied on any party as a result of these rule changes.

Over 700 inapplicable rules intended for telephone networks are null - The FCC is using its "forbearance authority" to throw out rules that simply do not apply to or are inappropriate for regulating net neutrality.

Utilities must provide pole and conduit access to other providers - This rule is specifically to stop large corporations from preventing new entrants into the market, or from interfering with one another in a competitive environment.

In all, this looks to be a great set of rules that sets up a fair "light touch" set of restrictions that will keep internet providers and backbone carriers honest.

The next steps for Net Neutrality are that they will become enforced 60 days after they appear in the Federal Register, they have not yet appeared in the register as of this writing.

There's a chance that this will end up in court, however, the FCC has much greater legal authority this time around. In the last court battle with Verizon, the judge basically told the FCC that they will have the legal authority to regulate net neutrality if they reclassify ISPs as title II carriers, which is exactly what they have done. The only significant legal barrier has been removed.

There's also always a chance that congress will try to write a law superseding the authority of the FCC.

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