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Net Neutrality Controversy: FCC Outlines Its Rules

It was one of the most anticipated telecom regulatory actions of the last decade.

The FCC this week voted 3-2 to prohibit Americas telecommunications broadband giants from blocking lawful Internet content or discriminating against applications or services.

In a five-page news release issued Tuesday, the agency outlined an order that is designed to preserve the openness of the Internet. The rules will go into effect early next year, an FCC spokesman confirmed.

Specifically, the federal rules will prohibit AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and other broadband Internet access service providers from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices” or unreasonably” discriminating in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumers broadband Internet access service.”

Both prohibitions are subject to reasonable network management” practices that give broadband carriers flexibility to manage congestion on their networks and deal with other issues, such as security.

The FCC did not specifically bar telecommunications carriers from negotiating agreements with third parties, such as Google, that would give certain Internet traffic priority over other content and services.

But the agency said such pay-for-priority” arrangements would probably violate its prohibition on unreasonable discrimination. 

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the ruling further prohibits mobile broadband providers from blocking websites or blocking certain competitive applications.”

Given the importance of an open Internet to our economic future, given the potentially irreversible nature of some harmful practices, and given the competition issues among broadband providers, it is essential that the FCC fulfill its historic role as a cop on the beat to ensure the vitality of our communications networks and to empower and protect consumers of those networks,” Genachowski said in a statement.

Genachowski and the other two Democratic commissioners, Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn, voted to approve the rules. Republican FCC Commissioners Meredith Attwell and Robert McDowell dissented.

The FCCs controversial rulemaking proceeding drew input from more than 100,000 individuals and businesses, and reflects extraordinary differences of opinion over whether the regulations were warranted.

McDowell said the rules were unnecessary, and he referred to the day of the vote as one of the darkest days in recent FCC history.”

Using these new rules as a weapon, politically favored companies will be able to pressure three political appointees to regulate their rivals to gain competitive advantages,” said McDowell, a Republican who was first appointed a commissioner by President George W. Bush, then reappointed by President Obama.

The rules, which also require broadband carriers to make certain public disclosures, could face legal challenges or intervention by Congress next year.

Some Republicans have criticized the FCC and asserted the rules could harm investments and subject telecommunications carriers to litigation.


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