Neutrality Rules Slated to Take Effect this Fall

Last week, the FCC published its final Open Internet rules in the Federal Register, which means they will formally go into effect later this fall.  The publication caps off a two-year process at the Commission to get the rules in place.  While the rules won’t change much in terms of day-to-day use of the Internet, it is good news for consumers and innovators that they will at long last be enforceable.

The rules essentially preserve the status quo online.  They prevent cable, DSL, and fiber carriers from favoring or disfavoring certain sites or applications over others and prevent mobile carriers from blocking websites or competing voice and video applications – leaving consumers to decide which services they might prefer.  The only significant change will be that now, if carriers engage in discriminatory routing or network management practices, those whose traffic is affected will have a place to go to demand recourse.

The rules themselves reflect a light-touch and flexible approach to preserving the competitive environment that currently exists on the Internet. The rules do not, as some critics declare, amount to “regulating the Internet,” and there is ample evidence that in the absence of rules carriers might discriminate (as a few have done already) against some lawful traffic.   

The rules are set to go into effect on November 20, but their formal publication also starts another, more ominous clock.  After October 13, Internet neutrality opponents in the Senate will be able to force a vote on a joint resolution under the Congressional Review Act that would repeal the rules and strip the FCC of the authority to make similar rules in the future.  (The resolution passed the House along party lines in the spring.)  Just as significant, the publication of the rules also starts the clock on litigation, as Verizon and any other parties wishing to challenge the rules in court are now free to file suit.

Repealing the rules would be a huge mistake that would mark a dramatic change in U.S. communications policy. As we’ve written before (here and here), to strip the nation’s communications regulator of any authority over what is rapidly becoming the core communications network of the 21st century would be absurd. Not having any authority looking out for Internet users’ best interests would leave carriers free to discriminate amongst Internet applications, picking winners and losers, to the detriment of consumer choice, competition, and online innovation.

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