The US FCC voted to approve a net neutrality framework for wired and wireless networks Tuesday, but is already facing a promise by top Republican Congressmen to repeal it.
Under the proposed framework, wired ISPs must be transparent about network congestion management, and will be prohibited from blocking over-the-top services like VoIP and video that compete with carrier services. The rules also ban “unreasonable discrimination” against lawful network traffic.
However, the framework does allow broadband ISPs to create usage-based pricing and tiered services that charge heavy data users more.
ISPs will also be allowed to create “specialized services” separate from the public Internet for specific apps like healthcare and security, but will be required to justify such services to the FCC.
As expected, cellcos get a lighter touch under the framework, which exempt mobile from the “unreasonable discrimination” provision, and call for “reasonable” network management “appropriate and tailored to a legitimate network management purpose, taking into account network architecture.”
Cellcos will also be subject to a simpler “no blocking” rule that does not apply to cellcos running application storefronts.
Notably, the FCC stopped short of reclassifying broadband as a common-carrier service, a proposal suggested by FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski earlier this year that was vehemently opposed by the telecoms sector and net neutrality proponents.
The framework is not yet set in stone – the FCC will meet on December 21 to vote on a proposed order that will put the rules into effect –, however it is already drawing predictable fire from pro-net neutrality groups.
Harold Feld, legal director of Public Knowledge, criticized the rules for failing to create any legal certainty over what constitutes an “open Internet”.
“Instead of using this long and painful process to define what carriers can and can’t do, and what rights consumers can expect, the FCC has created the opportunity to undergo a long and painful process of enforcement to define the rules,” Feld blogged.
Free Press managing director Craig Aaron said the framework was “a squandered opportunity to enact clear, meaningful rules to safeguard the Internet’s level playing field and protect consumers.”
Republicans in Congress also oppose the new rules, with House GOP Leader John Boehner denouncing the framework as an “unnecessary and harmful federal government power grab.”
Boehner and House Whip Eric Cantor vowed to repeal the rules when the GOP takes control of the House in January, according to Politico.com.
In the US Senate, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a ranking member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, has filed an amendment to an appropriations bill that would prohibit the FCC from using funds to “adopt, implement or otherwise litigate any network neutrality based rules, protocols or standards”, the Washington Post reported.
The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA), meanwhile, welcomed the framework, particularly the decision to not reclassify broadband providers as common carriers, which TIA President Grant Seiffert stated would stifle industry growth and innovation.