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FCC Unveils Guidelines For Net Neutrality

Monday, August 31st, 2015

After classifying broadband internet as a public utility service, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has issued guidelines for protecting net neutrality and consumer privacy. The 400 page document comes at a time when awareness regarding online privacy is at an all-time high (thanks in no small part to Edward Snowden) and American ISPs are under intense scrutiny for their unethical marketing practices.

Although broadband internet has now been rebranded as a utility service, the FCC has exempted ISPs from strict pricing controls that are usually applicable for the providers of public utility services. The agency has also explicitly stated that the rules designed to protect the privacy of phone users may not be necessarily suitable for the users of online services.

FCC’s Net Neutrality document outlines several measures to protect the interests of consumers, some of which are listed below:

1) No Blocking, Throttling or Paid Prioritization – As per the guidelines issued by FCC, subscribers of broadband internet must get access to all lawful destinations on the internet and ISPs must not engage in blocking of lawful content, apps, services or devices.

The document also prohibits ISPs from degrading the quality of the service (also known as throttling) based on source or destination of the traffic or the content itself (especially if the content competes with the business model of the service provider). As per the guidelines, ISPs must not degrade or impair lawful internet traffic based on content, service, application or device.

Apart from content blocking and throttling of speeds, the document also covers the topic of paid prioritization of internet traffic (also known as creation of fast and slow lanes on the web). FCC has explicitly stated in the document that broadband service providers must not indulge in activities that give preference to a specific type of traffic (through resource reservation or prioritization) in exchange for monetary consideration or to benefit a specific entity (including affiliated entities).

2) No interference – As per the FCC, there should be no unreasonable interference or disadvantage to the interests of the end users due to the actions of the broadband internet providers. ISPs must not act as gatekeepers or toll collectors of the internet plus they must not indulge in activities that can restrict users’ ability to access the content, apps or services available on the internet or content providers’ ability to make services, apps and content available to the end users.

3) Enhanced Transparency – The FCC also pushes for enhanced transparency between broadband service providers and end users. As per the guidelines, ISPs must now reveal every little detail, including details about pricing (one-time and monthly charges, installation and rental fees, early termination charges), data caps and allowances (total data limits and details about charges/loss of service in case the limit is exceeded) and performance (details about speed and latency and whether or not the service will work for real-time applications); to the customers.

Although the release of FCC’s net neutrality document is a step in the right direction, it could also invite lawsuits from the ISPs since a lot of details contained in it could be interpreted in different ways. In addition, the agency’s decision to become the guardian of the privacy of internet users could cause friction with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) which has been overseeing consumer privacy since last few years. Nevertheless, the document paves the way for an enhanced and improved online experience for broadband users.

August 31, 2015

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