As expected (and reported from various news outlets), today FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed using Title II legislation to help settle the question of net neutrality. The debate over net neutrality – the idea that all packets traveling over the Internet routers, servers, etc. should receive equal treatment, which is how things have generally worked up to now – has been going on for more than a decade, with two primary views. On the one side are those who want this continue, primarily consumer interests along with companies including Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Netflix; on the other side are major Internet Service Providers like Comcast and AT&T.

Proponents argue that the Internet has flourished thanks to net neutrality and an attitude of being free and open. They also point out that these are the rules that have more or less been followed so far, and they have worked well, so the regulation is more of a safeguard to keep the current norm of equal treatment of data in place. Opponents meanwhile have expressed concerns that regulation would hinder their ability and motive to roll out faster broadband service, and others are worried that regulation may open the way to increased taxation and other costs. When President Obama weighed in last year and recommended that the FCC implement “the strongest possible rules” to protect the Internet, today’s eventual recommendation by the FCC was more or less a foregone conclusion.

Wheeler states in his Wired piece, “I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections…. I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.” The application of the same rules to mobile broadband is particularly important, as according to the FCC around 55% of online traffic now occurs on smartphones and tablets. While Title II regulation has been applied to the cellphone industry since 1993, mobile data services have up until now been exempt.

As for how Title II will be applied, Wheeler proposes modernizing Title II and tailoring it for the 21st century, at the same time continuing to encourage investment into broadband networks via incentives. The goal is to create a system where the necessary returns continue to exist in order for large communications corporations to construct competitive networks. “For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling.” Elsewhere Wheeler mentions using a “light touch approach” similar to what has been done in the cellphone industry.

What does this all mean to end users? It’s important to note that net neutrality and Title II regulation alone don’t mean faster speeds for lower prices. I for one would love to see more affordable pricing on broadband, particularly for mobile broadband, but that may or may not happen; Title II for now is about making things “fair” for all parties. What this really means is that a company like Comcast, as an example, cannot prioritize their own content over that of competitors – so on demand streaming of the latest movie from Comcast has the same access to bandwidth as streaming of content from Netflix, Hulu, Amazon, etc. It’s also important that net neutrality remain in place not just on the connections to our homes and businesses, but also on the Internet backbone.

There have been examples of ISPs limiting traffic in the past, so it will be interesting to see how this plays out. BitTorrent trafic was often limited to end users, and this may not change if the traffic is not deemed as "legal content" but it would be hard for an ISP to declare that all traffic of a single protocol is not legal, even if some of it is not. Famous examples of legal BitTorent traffic would be things like Linux distribution networks and World of Warcraft, just to name some examples. Netflix traffic has also been degraded in the past due to the lack of sufficent interconnect bandwidth, with Netflix agreeing to pay last mile ISPs to improve service.

As this is all at the proposal stage right now, we’ll need to wait to see what some of this means in actual practice – and voting will take place on Feb. 26.

Source: FCC

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  • extide - Thursday, February 5, 2015 - link

    I havent heard of anything like that.
  • wiyosaya - Friday, February 6, 2015 - link

    I cannot refute it with a citation, but I highly doubt this. As an example. this would mean that people who have remote home monitoring/automation setup through a VPN would no longer be able to do this. If this were the case, I imagine that the public outrage would be extraordinary.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, February 5, 2015 - link

    Good decision. This should prevent all sorts of backside deals and politics due to ISPs prioritizing certain traffic.
  • hamiltenor - Friday, February 6, 2015 - link

    "ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services"

    Until "lawful content" is defined. it's all hand-waving.

    I don't see how having an open internet requires defining what's lawful content and what isn't. It's one or the other people. You can't call something bad and not ban restricting it, then also say it's a more open internet.

    The influence of 'big content" in the FCC's pants?
  • Etsp - Friday, February 13, 2015 - link

    That wording simply means that it won't punish ISP's for blocking unlawful content.

    ISP's will be allowed (possibly required) to block access to known child porn sites that the US cannot take down. That is not lawful content, and possessing it or downloading it is illegal. It's not up to the FCC to define what content is lawful or not, it's up to congress.
  • piasabird - Sunday, February 8, 2015 - link

    How about a fine for any website that keeps sending you e-mail when you ask them to stop!
  • piasabird - Sunday, February 8, 2015 - link

    How about a requirement for all e-mail to be licensed and traceable?
  • piasabird - Sunday, February 8, 2015 - link

    The purpose of purchasing high speed bandwidth is to receive high speed bandwidth. This means if I want to sit at home and watch Netflix all day and all night long, I should be able to do just that. Why pay for high speed bandwidth if it is not delivered. If I wanted Dial-up speed that is what I would buy. Cant fix stupid. Don't sell broadband if you cant deliver it.
  • Antronman - Saturday, February 14, 2015 - link

    Well the FCC did change the definition.
  • Bullettrap - Saturday, February 14, 2015 - link

    I live in the USA. I have no access to a land based broadband provider. I live off a paved road. The sunshine does not need to be piped in. The last cable drop is exactly 1 mile from my location. 14 years have past and no additional build outs have occurred, regardless of my and other neighbors plea. I felt it necessary to provide service to my home on my own. I spent thousands of dollars erecting a 120' tower to provide a point to point wireless link. 8 years this worked. I used 900mhz, 2.4ghz, & 5.8ghz free spectrum for the link....all failed after a time because its not protected spectrum. 700mhz or less does cut through all the interference....of license free spectrum. LTE works very well. Verizon was the first to provide access in my area. The cost is however ridiculous... $120.00 per month for 30GB of data TOTAL up/down. They will still provide me with service should I go over 1 byte of the 30GB, but its another $10.00 up to a GB. I have 1 child in his second year of college, another is a sophomore in HS. A family of 4 will blow 30GB easily by the 15th day of the billing cycle. I want equal service provided to my family, as do families in urban areas. AT&T & TWC are the incumbent carriers where I live. They have both received tax abatements to build out their services over the past 20+ years!!!!!!!Time to hold them accountable. Thats our money, hold them accountable.

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