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The net neutrality rules, published Friday, represent the realization of a long dream of Democratic President Barack Obama and his appointed FCC Chairman, Julius Genachowski (pictured).  (Source: Television Broadcast)

The rule ensures that content delivery services like YouTube can not be discriminated against by ISPs.
Limitations to new rules won't please everyone, though

It was the night before Christmas and all through the halls, not a creature was stirring -- except for the U.S. Federal Communication Commission's five man board.  They were busy delivering a special holiday present to internet firms -- the first publication of the net neutrality rules, which they (largely begrudgingly) passed on Wednesday.

The rules, available here (PDF; 1.0 MB) directly from the FCC, offer many predictable terms and a few seasonal surprises as well. 

I.  What's Inside

The rules will give the FCC for the first time the ability to regulate internet networks and prevent service providers from blocking any "lawful" traffic or throttling it. 

Some companies, such as Comcast, America's largest cable internet provider, have already been accused of trying to shake down internet content providers to maintain access.

One slight surprise is that the rules also make it difficult for service providers to accept fees to speed up traffic.  Many expected this to be legal. 

Telecom attorneys fought to allow it.  But Democratic Commissioner Michael J. Copps ardently opposed it, saying it would stifle innovation and make providing internet content a business only accessible by the wealthy.  The FCC apparently agreed with Mr. Copps' complaints, writing, "In light of each of these concerns, as a general matter, it is unlikely that pay for priority would satisfy the "no unreasonable discrimination" standard."

II. Tiered Usage Fees?

Parts of the bill bear some ambiguity.  The bill does seem to allow for tiered data usage schemes, but it indicates that it would monitor such systems for abuse.  This make it unlikely that telecoms could achieve their dream of charging heavy users (such as those who stream Netflix) hundreds in monthly fees ($0.01-$0.03 MB fees has been proposed by some).  Ultimately, with little profit incentive, telecoms may be reticent to adopt tiered usage.

III. Throttling "Illegal" Traffic -- Allowed, but is it Feasible?

Another ambiguous concept is the idea that "illegal" traffic may be throttled.  States the document:
In the Open Internet NPRM, the Commission proposed that open Internet rules
be subject to reasonable network management, consisting of "reasonable practices employed by a provider of broadband Internet access service to:(3) prevent the transfer of unlawful content; or (4) prevent the unlawful transfer of content."
The problem here is that ISPs like Comcast would have to prove that bittorrent or peer-to-peer (P2P) traffic was illegal.  Some legal services use these formats to distribute music, movies, or other file types, and the academic world often relies on them for file transfers.  All it would take would be one case of mistaken throttling and the ISPs could be slammed with big legal fees and fines.

Of course the government is considering, under the pending ACTA internet treaty, forcing taxpayers to fund the government monitoring networks for copyright infringement and other illegal behavior.  However, it is questionable whether this is even possible why maintaining sufficient service fees and avoiding false positives.

IV.  Mobile Limitations

As widely assumed, the document makes exceptions for mobile internet, something that angered FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski's Democratic Commission colleagues.  The document states:
However, as explained in the Open Internet NPRM and subsequent Public Notice, mobile broadband presents special considerations that suggest differences in how and when open Internet protections should apply... Moreover, most consumers have more choices for mobile broadband than for fixed (particularly fixed wireline) broadband... In addition, existing mobile networks present operational constraints that fixed broadband networks do not typically encounter.  This puts greater pressure on the concept of "reasonable network management" for mobile providers.
The document suggests that mobile internet "openness" may be revisited by rulemakers once it becomes more established.  And pending schemes -- like the idea of "pay per site" revealed by top telecom firms at a recent conference -- may be ruled by the FCC to be outside the realms of "reasonable" management.

V. Could this "Gift" Get Returned?

Ultimately the rules could face challenges from multiple sources.  Telecom firms and internet service providers could file suit against the provisions in federal courts.  Their fate in such cases, though, would be uncertain.  While they won past suits, such as the spring federal court ruling that Comcast could throttle traffic, those wins came largely because the FCC had been unable to ratify an official series of rules -- which it has now done.  With those rules in place, the courts would likely be more hesitant to override the FCC and diminish its Congressionally granted ability to regulate national communications.

Other challenges could come from Congress.  Telecoms have funneled millions to the campaigns of certain politicians, which will likely help them secure future challenges to the legislation by Congress.  The funded candidates are largely Republicans -- Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) alone accepted from AT&T and Verizon $237,000 in direct donations, $3.6M in lobbyist-raised funding, and free personal service to his Arizona ranch.  Republicans are about to gain control the House of Representatives, but are in the minority in the Senate -- plus they do not control the White House.  Thus the possibility of legislative opposition remains very viable, but will have to wait for future election years.

ISPs, besides wireless firms, likely will be less than happy with the new rules, which set limits on their internet profiteering.  However, they still have many viable options to maintain their profits and tight control of local markets.  One option is to lobby state officials to ban citizens in counties or townships from banding together and creating their own faster, cheaper municipal Wi-Fi services.  ISPs have already tried to kill several municipal efforts in such a fashion.

For content deliverers like Google (owner of YouTube), the rules definitely fulfill a key item on their wish list.  But they have expressed concerns about the rules apparent allowance of telecoms breaching net neutrality in the mobile realm.  Thus it might not be exactly how they wished for it, but the ratified and published "In the Matter of Preserving the Open Internet Broadband Industry Practices" regulations document still gives them something thankful for this year.

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This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

By ekv on 12/30/2010 12:14:10 AM , Rating: 0
my expectations
Me, my, mine. Vs. 'All I ever needed to know, I learned in Kindergarten' []
I expect my rights as a consumer to be respected.
And I expect my rights as a citizen to be respected, not trampled by some faceless mind-numbingly unaccountable bureaucracy. Unfortunately, the easy route is to grease the skids of your favorite politician/lawyer and have them pass a law, abrogating my rights and forcing me to pay for something that may ultimately be ruled unconstitutional [by judicial fiat, or otherwise]. Hence I say it is selfish. I say it is lazy on your part and it is relevant. Even JMick mentions lobbying "state officials" in his blog, let alone this threads topic. Why don't you understand this?

It must come down to the kind of content you are currently using the Internet for. I wonder what that could be....
Regulations are a fact of life, deal with it.
Uh, I'm not the one who has problems with QoS regulations, nor living up to my end of a contract. I suggest you re-read my advice ... maybe look in the mirror while you're at it. Furthermore, Net Neutrality is a controversial subject. Good law or bad law, the devil is in the details, which is to say the bureaucracy that enforces and/or carries out the law. The implementation if you will. Given that this implementation of the law is what you "want" I use the grammatical structure "your implementation".

The reason you don't want me to say it's your implementation is that if this law is struck down, or it's badly administered, etc., you want to be able to deny you were a supporter of this laws particulars. So you argue vociferously for this implementation, not understanding the bureaucratic nightmare that's being created, or worse, not even caring what the hell gets foisted off on the rest of us, meanwhile you know even as you speak you can later on deny supporting such a position. This is what used to be called a "cop out." Even more ridiculous is the notion that you conceivably think bureaucracy can be fine-tuned and improved. Ludicrous. An oxymoron if ever there were.
Solutions or not, the problem is there and it was used as an example.
Right, you aren't interested in solutions, you're only interested in what you want. Alternatives exist. When I say this I'm simply restating the phrase "Technology marches on" in other words so that you may understand. I guess that's kind of a jibe, but if you're a lawyer or paralegal then other words may help your understanding. Alternatives don't necessarily give immediate gratification, they may require work over time, which would further explain your aversion to non-bureaucratic solutions.
The Internet is a conduit
Question: who owns the transmission lines? Somebody took the risk to install the machinery. If memory serves, the US has historically been and still is a capitalist (-leaning) country. Private ownership, risk/reward, and all that.
It doesn't deny extra bandwidth, it denies priority access, that's different.
You are back to quibbling over words. However you want to explain it, if you even can, throttling has been around for quite some time
Not in the same way, it's not directly accountable
I'm not sure you understood my point, since what I'm driving at is that transportation costs have direct and, as you so kindly pointed out, indirect costs. A car that can travel at 60 mph on the freeway costs money. In other words, buying a car is a direct cost. Having driven a car that was not so capable, downtown in a major metropolitan area, I can attest that it is worth the money to have that ability. Are you aware that not everybody can afford such? And it seems so trivial to you, no? In addition, there is no such "right" to go 60mph (or better) on a freeway. I defy you to enumerate such a right. It is however a privilege. What I said was true. You are paying for your speed.

Instead of your usual "That makes it different" or "So it doesn't apply" boilerplate/BS reply, can you at least try to give an honest assessment? I'll give you the last word.

P.S. what "I want" is ... if Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) gets passed, would love to see your face when the jack-boots (MPAA?) knock at your door.

"Young lady, in this house we obey the laws of thermodynamics!" -- Homer Simpson

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