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FAQs About the FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules

By Josh Long
March 02, 2011 - Article

The Net neutrality rules released in December by the Federal Communications Commission ended years of speculation over what the agency would do to ensure that U.S. broadband providers keep the Internet open.

Now, U.S. fixed and mobile broadband providers must prepare to comply with the rules.  Below are answers to frequently asked questions about what the rules mean, what services are included and excluded, when the order will likely go into effect and whether the FCC has had the last word.

1. What is the crux of the FCC’s Open Internet Order?

The FCC issued four general rules.

  • First, fixed and mobile “broadband Internet access service" providers like Comcast, Sprint Nextel and Verizon must make certain public disclosures concerning their network management practices, performance, and commercial terms.
  • Second, the order prohibits fixed broadband providers from blocking lawful content, applications, services or non-harmful devices. However, the prohibition is subject to “reasonable network management" practices.
  • Third, mobile broadband providers cannot block lawful Web sites or applications that compete with their voice or video telephone services.
  • Fourth, fixed broadband providers are barred from “unreasonably" discriminating “in transmitting lawful network traffic" over a consumer’s service. The FCC added a caveat: “Reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination."

2. What is a “broadband Internet access service?"

The FCC defines it as a “mass-market retail service by wire or radio that provides the capability to transmit data to and receive data from all or substantially all Internet endpoints, including any capabilities that are incidental to and enable the operation of the communications service, but excluding dial-up Internet access service." The FCC also has discretion to define “broadband Internet access service" as any service the agency finds to be equivalent to the service described above or “that is used to evade" the protections in the order.

3. What do “mass market" services include?

The FCC defines “mass market" as “a service marketed and sold on a standardized basis to residential customers, small businesses, and other end-user customers such as schools and libraries."

4. Why are enterprise services excluded from the Open Internet Order?

The FCC rationalized these services “are typically offered to larger organizations through customized or individually negotiated arrangements."

5. Are facilities-based VoIP and IP-based TV offerings subject to the order?

No. The FCC defines these offerings as “specialized services." 

6. When do the rules go into effect?

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