On February 26, 2015 the FCC took action on Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal to change how the FCC classifies and regulates the internet. The commission voted 3-2 to approve Title II-backed net neutrality regulations. This essentially changes how broadband internet service is classified from the FCC and changes a lot of regulatory definitions for providers of broadband internet. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s comments can be found here.
What did the FCC do?
First, the FCC reclassified broadband Internet access as a “telecommunications service” under Title II of the Communications Act. However, this does not mean that the FCC classified the internet as a public utility.
This means that while the FCC has enhanced its regulatory authority over providers of internet services, the FCC will not engage in price regulation, rate setting, or a number of other regulations that public utilities (such as telephone services) are subject to.
What these regulations will do is prevent internet service providers (ISPs) from manipulating internet speeds by setting up “pay to play” internet fast lanes for businesses or commercial enterprises (such as streaming video or downloading music) or slowing down connection speeds for specific content or websites (corporations such as Google will not be able to pay money to increase the connection speed to their website or slow down connections to competitors).
Additionally, a separate FCC order on February 26 pre-empted state laws which prevent local governments from providing their own broadband internet services in their areas, citing concerns that it would prevent competition in some markets.
What does this mean for me?
Effectively your internet experience will probably not change very much in the short term. Internet “fast lanes” and similar programs which are affected by this order were not yet widely used, so their continued absence will probably not be noticeable.
The second order creates the potential for greater competition and consumer choice of ISPs, especially in rural or underserved areas. This ruling also protects the ability of local governments to invest in internet infrastructure to compete with private sector providers.
Moving forward, these regulations are expected to be challenged in court. The outcome of any legal challenges and how the FCC uses their new regulatory abilities is yet to be seen. UCAN will continue to monitor this story and keep our members up to date with any notable developments. For more information please become a member or sign up for our mailing list.