After the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed an open regime of ‘Net Neutrality’ last month, the actual net neutrality rules were released last Thursday. The 400 page document was published after the FCC had passed the current net neutrality regime in a historic 3-2 vote that saw stiff competition between both the proponents and opponents of what is also known as ‘internet fairness’ principle.
FCC must have learned from its past experiences with trying to implement net neutrality rules. On both the previous occasions, the FCC’s attempts were assailed by the courts and eventually the rules had to be pulled out. Perhaps, keeping this in mind, the FCC released a 400 page document with bucket loads of footnotes and explanatory notes to rules, the actual text of which is just a little above 300 words.
The precautionary but voluminous document therefore intends to establish without doubt that FCC has incorporated ‘public interest’ in its rules for open internet. It did so by making sure that comments made by the public were well considered for the evolution of the final principles.
A Net Neutrality regime proposes to convert ‘internet’ and ‘broadband’ service provider into the a ‘common carrier’, i.e., just like a telecommunications service provider or a railway service provider. The idea behind net neutrality is that no customer of a network should be disadvantaged by the providers of service on a network. For e.g., if the internet pipelines are heavily congested and the speeds get slowed down, then no customer can seek faster services from a service provider at extra costs.
However, the FCC’s document goes beyond the mere establishment of a regime that would observe net neutrality principles. Now, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will also have to disclose the rates that they offer for the different levels of connection speeds they provide. ISPs will also have to detail beforehand all such restrictions that it imposes on the flow of traffic in a particular pipeline or network. This rule has been implemented because the FCC noted in the 400 page document that terms of service provision were opaque and undecipherable for most common consumers.
In addition to the new internet regime, the FCC also made itself the nodal agency for receiving and redressing consumer complaints in relation to net neutrality rules. It means that if your ISP has not been transparent in its service provision or has provided quality of service, lesser than what was advertised, then FCC may be approached. This move may also produce legal wrangles for the FCC from the Federal Trade Commission, which might see this new development as a regulatory trespass over its jurisdictional ambit.