EDUCAUSE Advances Net Neutrality Principles, Positions

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Summary: Earlier this year, the FCC launched a new net neutrality rule-making process to restore protections lost when its previous rules were overturned. EDUCAUSE joined with several higher education and library organizations to propose principles on which the FCC should base its new rules, as well as to submit comments indicating the shape the rules might take given the principles. The FCC will accept responses to initial public comments through September 10; EDUCAUSE and its partners will work during this period to generate responses supporting our principles and positions.

Earlier this year, a federal appeals court overturned the Federal Communication Commission’s open Internet (net neutrality) regulations. The court determined that the FCC has the authority to implement such regulations, but that the way in which previously chose to establish those rules did not appropriately align with its legal options. The FCC responded by launching a new round of net neutrality rule-making, emphasizing its court-acknowledged authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act, which tasks the FCC with promoting national broadband development and adoption. The FCC initially set July 15th as the deadline for its initial public comment period, and then extended the deadline to July 18th to accommodate overwhelming public interest.

EDUCAUSE joined with eleven other leading higher education and library associations to submit a set of net neutrality principles to the FCC on July 10th. The groups urged the FCC to use these principles as the basis for developing its proposed new net neutrality rules. Among other points, the principles stress that paid prioritization (i.e., letting some online content and service providers pay for priority delivery of their Internet transmissions) inherently disadvantages colleges, universities, and libraries that may not be able to pay for prioritized transmission in addition to paying for Internet access, and therefore it should not be allowed. Likewise, the principles state that allowing commercial Internet service providers (i.e., Internet access providers offering services to the general public) to slow or “degrade” the traffic of some content and service providers to allow for faster transmission by others (essentially achieving the effect of paid prioritization by other means) should not be allowed. The principles also reflect the view that commercial ISPs should not have the option of blocking Internet users from access to lawful online content and services.

EDUCAUSE then worked with a similar group of organizations to submit comments at the July 18th deadline indicating how the FCC might utilize the principles in developing net neutrality rules that address the needs of the higher education and library communities. In addition to reinforcing the principles against paid prioritization, degradation, and blocking, the comments discuss the standard that the FCC should use in determining when commercial ISP practices would violate rules based on those principles, and thus be disallowed. Additional concepts presented in this context include the assumption that the Internet should remain an environment in which content and service providers are free to innovate without prior approval by ISPs (“innovation without permission”), and that the open architecture of the Internet should be preserved to maintain the Internet’s innovative capacity (“open platform”). The comments also support the presumption that the FCC will clarify and continue to respect the distinction between commercial Internet access services subject to net neutrality regulation and private networks and related end-user practices that historically have not faced regulation.

The FCC will accept responses to initial public comments through September 10. EDUCAUSE and its partner organizations will continue to engage with other organizations to seek further support for our position during this time. We will also continue to keep you informed about our net neutrality work on behalf of our members and higher education, and we look forward to your thoughts and feedback as we move forward.