ST. GEORGE – The Federal Communications Commission’s “Open Internet Order: New Rules to Protect an Open Internet” announced Thursday, aims, the FCC says, to protect free expression and innovation by giving the agency authority to address questionable practices; but the FCC’s action was met with criticism on the part of Utah congressmen who protest the rules as regulatory overreach, unnecessary, the product of secret negotiations, and a threat to the free and flourishing economic activity of the Internet.
Sen. Mike Lee called the Order an “egregious seizure of regulatory power.”
“Earlier today,” Lee said Thursday, “three of the five unelected, politically appointed bureaucrats who currently sit as commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission voted to grant themselves and their agency the power to regulate the Internet – its millions of American users and trillions of dollars in economic activity – with the same antiquated rules designed for the monopolistic landline telephone industry in the 20th century.”
Rep. Chris Stewart called the FCC Order a “reckless, unforced error.”
“It’s the product of secret negotiations with the White House that will result in a 20th Century Internet,” Stewart said. “What’s worse is that the Commission still hasn’t finished writing the 300 page order that was approved on partisan lines. Imagine if Congress changed the law after a vote.”
“Absent action by the FCC, Internet openness is at risk,” the FCC’s own statement released Thursday said. In it, the FCC outlined three “bright line rules” of the road for an “Open Internet,” rules the FCC said are predicated on a firm legal foundation, while acknowledging that its previous attempts to implement enforceable, sustainable rules have been twice struck down by the courts.
Introducing the commission’s order, the FCC’s release stated:
Today, the Commission—once and for all—enacts strong, sustainable rules, grounded in multiple sources of legal authority, to ensure that Americans reap the economic, social, and civic benefits of an Open Internet today and into the future. These new rules are guided by three principles: America’s broadband networks must be fast, fair and open …
With a firm legal foundation established, the Order sets three ‘bright-line’ rules of the road for behavior known to harm the Open Internet, adopts an additional, flexible standard to future-proof Internet openness rules, and protects mobile broadband users with the full array of Open Internet rules.
It does so while preserving incentives for investment and innovation by broadband providers by affording them an even more tailored version of the light-touch regulatory treatment that fostered tremendous growth in the mobile wireless industry.
Lee argued that the move violates existing law and will lead to the demise of today’s Internet.
“This unprecedented move by the FCC is not only an egregious seizure of regulatory power and a clear violation of the 1996 Communications Act, which wisely prohibits the federal government from regulating broadband Internet services,” Lee said. “It also begins in earnest the slow, suffocating, inevitable demise of the Internet as we know it today — the open and expansive universe and source of information, innovation, entertainment, and communication.”
The three bright line rules the FCC Order gives banning practices it deems harmful to the Internet are:
- No Blocking | Broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
- No Throttling | Broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or nonharmful devices.
- No Paid Prioritization | Broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind — in other words, no fast lanes.
Tom Wheeler, FCC chairman wrote in his FCC blog Thursday that the action was an important step in helping consumers, innovators and the nation’s financial markets.
“Consumers now know that lawful content will not be blocked or their service throttled,” Wheeler said. “Innovators now know they will have open access to consumers without worrying about pay-for-preference fast lanes. This, too, is a bright line rule to ban paid prioritization. Financial markets now know that rate regulation, tariffing and forced unbundling – the old-style utility regulation – has been superseded by a modernized regulatory approach that has already been demonstrated to work. The rules under which the wireless industry invested $300 billion to build a vibrant and growing business are the pro-investment model for the rules we adopted today.”
Other provisions of the Order give the FCC authority to address questionable practices on a case-by-case basis. Guidelines and standards are given as they address the issues: greater transparency, requiring broadband providers to disclose, promotional rates, fees and data caps, and provide notice of network management practices that can affect service.
“For the first time the Commission can address issues that may arise in the exchange of traffic between mass-market broadband providers and other networks and services,” the FCC said. “Under the authority provided by the Order, the Commission can hear complaints and take appropriate enforcement action if it determines the interconnection activities of ISPs are not just and reasonable.”
In the previous Title II of the Communications Act there are 48 sections, of which 27 of them were struck down because of the Order, Wheeler said.
“The future of the Internet does not reside in backward-looking regulation from another era,” Wheeler said.
Sen. Orrin Hatch, however, sees the order as constricting the Internet to an outdated and unnecessary regulatory scheme. In his release following the order Thursday, he said:
The administration’s decision to subject the Internet — a constantly changing, crucially important sector of our economy — to outdated regulations designed for the age of the rotary telephone will serve only to stifle innovation and discourage growth. The Internet has been the source of success in recent years because government has largely stayed out of the way. The FCC’s power grab, which will mean government regulation dictating how Internet providers can and cannot serve their customers, is a recipe for stagnation, not innovation.
Existing law provides all the tools necessary to ensure that Internet companies treat customers fairly and honestly. The right way to promote a free and open Internet is to vigorously enforce our nation’s antitrust laws, not to shoehorn a great powerhouse of modern innovation into a ninety-year-old framework.
Lee further said Thursday:
What was previously bound only by the limits of the our imagination and the frontiers of our technology will now be suffocated by Washington bureaucrats, whose action today will benefit not internet consumers, entrepreneurs, and innovators, but the well-connected special interests that stand to profit from the diminished competition that invariably follows heavy-handed government regulation.
The Internet has been one of the most productive and innovative sectors of our economy, flourishing even as the rest of our economy sputtered, precisely because it has been open and free of exactly this kind of government regulation.
Today the FCC made clear that it has no interest in governing within the authority given to it by Congress and that it is eager to discard the objectivity that is expected of an independent, non-partisan agency, in favor of rank partisanship carried out on behalf of our imperious president.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.
- See the FCC full release here: 20150226 FCC Release on Rules adopted for Open Internet
- Federal Communications Commission website
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- Hatch, Blunt call for more awareness on issues of Internet governance
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