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FCC’s New Internet Regulations Reflect an Imperfect Compromise

From my post analyzing the FCC’s net neutrality decision:

It appears no one is happy with the rules ultimately adopted — not the progressive netroots groups who have been pushing the hardest for strict network neutrality rules; not conservative watchdog groups who have been warning the FCC against imposing extraneous government oversight on the Internet; and not even the Commissioners themselves. But compromise represents much needed progress in this arena.

After 18 months of political wrangling, the FCC adopted an order on December 21 regulating the broadband networks that are responsible for delivering the Internet. The vote was split 3-to-2, down party lines with Democrats Chairman Julius Genachowski and Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Michael Copps voting for it and Republicans Commissioners Robert McDowell and Meredith Atwell Baker voting against it.

The rules would prohibit Internet service providers from secretly suppressing content, from blocking any kind of lawful online traffic, and forbid them from engaging in “unreasonable discrimination’’ online. The FCC is now requiring broadband companies to publicize how their networks function and will prohibit them from secretly suppressing content.

The regulations apply to landline Internet services and to wireless networks offered by mobile phone companies, though not equally. Because current wireless networks do not have the same data capacity and cannot handle as much traffic as landline services, they have a different set of concerns regarding how to handle stress from high volumes of network traffic.

Chairman Genachowski said he believed the order is backed by federal laws. Commissioner Robert McDowell disagreed, however, calling the vote “one of the darkest days in recent FCC history.’’ McDowell argued that the commission lacked the legal authority to impose the rules on Internet companies, and net neutrality opponents and supports alike agree the new rules will likely end up back in federal court.


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