FCC’s Net Neutrality Rules Not So Neutral

On December 21 the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 for new rules intended to prevent Internet providers like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from acting as gatekeepers on the Web. Wireless carriers like AT&T and Verizon look to be exempt from the harshest rules. The objection by promoters of net neutrality is the fear of bandwidth control.

Cox Internet customers will receive a notice from Customer Relations tucked in their bill informing them of any changes in their policy.

Cox Communications already has three tiers of Internet service: Essential at 3 megabits per second download speed for $31.99, Preferred at 12 megabits at $45.99 and Premier at 15 megabits for $59.99 per month.

Their policy states that “If your bandwidth usage exceeds the amount included in your Internet package, Cox may suspend the Service or require you to upgrade the Service to a higher package and/or pay additional fees. In extreme cases, Cox may terminate the Service after providing adequate notice and opportunity for you to modify your bandwidth usage.”

ISP (Internet Service Providers) want the option to control the data pipeline and become the traffic cops of the Internet. Those with muscle (money) can command the green light while the average Internet e-mail checker would be sitting at the yield sign waiting their turn.

It boils down to cable companies and telephone companies being viewed separately. The FCC claims it will provide consumers, service providers, device makers, and application developers clear rules of the road for the Internet.

Network operators of both fixed and wireless networks will be required to disclose information that will be necessary for them to deploy services. If network management techniques are used that affect certain applications the ISP must transparently disclose the reason for the requirement.

Both fixed wire-line broadband network operators like Cox Communications and wireless providers like Verizon and AT&T are prohibited from blocking traffic on the Internet. But the stipulations for each type are different.

Wired networks operators will not be allowed to block any lawful content. Wireless providers are only prohibited from blocking websites that compete with the carrier’s voice or video services.

The “reasonable network management” blocking rule for wireless and wire-line networks includes allowances to “reasonably manage” their networks during times of congestion.

Fixed broadband providers like cable companies are prohibited from unreasonably discriminating against traffic on their network.

The compromise does not satisfy consumer advocates for net neutrality. They wanted stricter rules. This compromise could allow broadband providers to impose usage-based charges. ISP customers using more bandwidth would get charged more than customers using less. The FCC will also allow providers to offer special services like better quality for certain applications – for example home security and medical service applications.

Managing Director Craig Aaron of the media reform organization “The Free Press” was disappointed in the FCC’s watered-down protection of consumers, calling it “online discrimination.”

In a press release Aaron stated: “These rules don’t do enough to stop the phone and cable companies from dividing the Internet into fast and slow lanes, and they fail to protect wireless users from discrimination. No longer can you get to the same Internet via your mobile device as you can via your laptop.”

But only time will tell whether the implementation of the new rules will greatly affect the average internet user in Roanoke and beyond.