Network Neutrality Rules Poised to Pass
The FCC doesn't vote on the proposal until Tuesday, but it was clear by Monday afternoon that FCC chairman Julius Genachowski had the votes required to push it through after two fellow Democratic commissioners -- Michael J. Copps and Mignon Clyburn -- confirmed today that they won't block the item from passing. Robert McDowell and Meredith Attwell Baker -- both Republicans -- are expected to oppose the item. (See Net Neutrality Sweep: Everyone's Ticked.)
As currently drafted, the proposed rules, according to senior FCC officials, will apply "robust transparency rules" to both fixed and mobile Internet service providers, meaning they'll have to be diligent in disclosing information to consumers as well as application, content, and device makers that deploy services on those broadband networks.
Also built in is a rule that prohibits wireline ISPs from blocking lawful applications, content, and devices. However, the FCC will allow those ISPs to use "reasonable" network management.
The proposed rules are less strict for mobile broadband ISPs when it comes to the blocking of some Web sites, but they will be prohibited from blocking competitive voice and video telephony services, such as those from Skype Ltd. Wireless broadband will also be subject to reasonable network management.
If voted in as expected, the rules will codify and (in the case of wireless) extend the FCC's existing Internet Policy Statement. The FCC is taking this new step after a court determined that the Commission didn't have the authority to enforce those principles on Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), which came under fire for throttling some upstream peer-to-peer traffic (See Net Neutrality Ruling: FCC Loses, Comcast Wins.)
A senior FCC official labeled any notion that the rules would bless pay-for-priority arrangements as "categorically false," noting that the Commission does view them as potentially problematic.
The item will likely allow tiered pricing on broadband, possibly opening the door to usage-based Internet tiers. However, the FCC will monitor this area closely.
The item is not expected to address peering disputes, such as the one that surfaced recently between Level 3 Communications Inc. (NYSE: LVLT) and Comcast. (See Comcast: Level 3 Balks at Trial Offer and Level 3: Comcast Erected Web Video 'Toll Booth' .)
Once the rules are in place, the FCC is expected to review and resolve disputes quickly, since all complaints will go through the Commission's so-called "Rocket Docket." Those in violation of the rules will be subject to moves that prohibit behavior as well as fines.
Because of the expected dissent among the commissioners on the item, the final order won't be released on Tuesday. Because of that standard process, the full order likely won't be released until later in the week.
— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Light Reading Cable