updated 05:40 pm EST, Thu December 23, 2010
FCC makes net neutrality order public
The FCC as promised has published the official order (PDF for its newly approved net neutrality rules. The 194-page text reiterates much of what was discussed at the official vote but clarifies some of the more contentious points, including its lighter wireless limits. the no-blocking rule would focus on direct competition, such as voice and video apps, but would include the web and would include creating a new Open Internet Advisory Committee to regularly report on whether fairer rules were needed.
"We emphasize that our decision to proceed incrementally with respect to mobile broadband at this time should not suggest that we implicitly approve of any provider behavior that runs counter to general open Internet principles," the FCC said. "Beyond those practices expressly prohibited by our rules, other conduct by mobile broadband providers, particularly conduct that would violate our rules for fixed broadband, may not necessarily be consistent with Internet openness and the public interest."
Officials singled out Skype as one of the motivators behind focusing on video and voice. US carriers regularly used to block Skype entirely in the past and to this day still often force it to use phone minutes for calls on 3G instead of data, such as at AT&T and Verizon. It's unclear if the rules would force them to change the practice, but Skype could argue that its services are being at least partly blocked. The FCC terms made clear that any attempts to slow down or otherwise filter a service that render something effectively useless would still count.
Carrier-run app stores had already been exempted during the vote, since these competed with stores like those from Google and RIM and thus were free to limit their app choices.
In its wired terms, the FCC explained why it it counted pay-for-priority as "unreasonable discrimination" banned in the neutrality rules. While carriers don't normally charge sites extra for faster access today, letting this companies pay for faster access would put all the control in the hands of the Internet providers, which could dictate the terms and give content sources little choice.
Carriers also don't currently adjust their prices for when Internet services leave the market and would be expressly favoring other corporations over non-profit groups. Allowing payment for faster access would discriminating against bloggers, institutions and other non-commercial groups that would be overwhelmed, the FCC said. The approach could create a two-tier Internet where an Internet provider would have an incentive to let quality on the regular network slip while only caring about those paying extra.
Other clauses, again already made public, would prevent telecom companies from using single-purpose online services as end runs around neutrality rules, either by themselves or bundled together.
The rules as created might play directly into the hands of Level 3's complaint against Comcast, although the FCC has said the fight over Netflix costs was a peering dispute at present. They also likely explain the conditions the FCC is likely to impose on the Comcast-NBC merger, such as preventing Comcast from slowing down iTunes or Netflix to favor Xfinity TV.
The FCC's Republican commissioners, as well as Verizon, have already alluded to either a direct governmental challenge to the rules or else a lawsuit to prevent the terms from going forward. They argued at the vote that the Internet was functional as-is and didn't need any corrective or preventative steps.