FCC Releasing Net Neutrality Rules Mid-May, Chairman Gives Insight into Proposals

On April 23, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will release in mid-May new proposed “net neutrality” or Open Internet Rules, which would outline the extent to which broadband companies may charge different rates to content providers for access to their Internet pipelines.

As previously reported, the original Open Internet Rules, which the FCC issued in December 2011, were struck down by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on January 14, 2014. The court’s decision invalidated certain provisions of the rules, thereby forcing the FCC to rewrite the regulations. As part of that process, the agency is seeking public input on how it can continue to protect net neutrality while remaining consistent with the court’s ruling.

Many reports have speculated about which direction the agency will take moving forward. According to some outlets, the agency will propose allowing Internet service providers to sell “fast-lane” access to content providers. One FCC spokesman acknowledged the new rules will require broadband companies to provide a baseline level of service to consumers while allowing them to negotiate with individual content providers on some form of paid prioritization for content transmission under standard terms and conditions. ISPs with affiliated content providers (e.g. Comcast, which also owns NBC Universal) would have to submit those affiliated providers to the same standard terms for potential “fast-lane” access.

Chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement on April 24 giving a brief overview of the agency’s potential regulations. He denied claims the FCC was abandoning the Open Internet rules entirely, but explained the new rules must work within the parameters set by the court ruling. According to the Chairman, the FCC’s potential regulations would be intended to prevent conduct by broadband providers that is not “commercially reasonable,” a term in the court’s ruling.  Wheeler suggested that by setting a high bar for such behavior, the agency can continue to protect the open Internet while abiding by the limitations established by the court.

EDUCAUSE is working with the American Library Association (ALA) and the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) to help ensure higher education institutions and libraries can continue to offer online content without restriction or undue interference. As previously reported, the coalition submitted a letter to the FCC and is currently drafting a set of principles that outline the steps the agency should take to protect the Internet as a critical information resource.

For more information and updates from EDUCAUSE, members are encouraged to check here