FCC Passes Net Neutrality Order

Private business, entrepreneurs and students in college dorm rooms nurtured and grew the Internet since it was privatized in 1994. Now the regulators take over.

In a bold move, the Federal Communications Commission asserted its authority over the Internet Tuesday (Dec. 21), passing a controversial net neutrality order to make sure the Internet stays free and open. It’s the first time the FCC has adopted enforceable rules to regulate the Internet.

The vote followed party lines with the two Republican commissioners, Robert McDowell and Meredith Atwell Baker, dissenting in lengthy point-by-point statements.

The order will put in place three rules crafted to reflect the way the Internet operates now, the FCC said. The first rule deals with ensuring transparency of Internet services, requiring fixed and wireless services to describe their network management practices. Rule No. 2 is a no-blocking rule. Fixed and wireless Internet services cannot block lawful content, applications or services. The third rule applies to fixed Internet services and prohibits Internet services from discriminating against any lawful content or giving preferential treatment to certain content.

Internet services will be allowed to manage their networks to deal with congestion and security and use tiered pricing.

“This order is about preserving the freedom and openness of the Internet that has worked for so many years,” said FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski. “It’s a good day for innovators, for consumers and for the future of the Internet.”

Fourteen months in the making, the order Tuesday was an alternative to previous attempts by the FCC to become the Internet’s regulating body. Earlier this year, a D.C. Circuit Court ruled that the FCC lacked the authority to regulate the Internet.

The question of the FCC’s authority is perhaps the main sticking point of opponents to today’s order, which included the two Republican commissioners.

“Instead of acting as a cop on the beat, the FCC looks more like a regulatory vigilante,” said commissioner Robert McDowell. “The FCC has provocatively charged on a collision course with the legislative branch. Not only is this the darkest day of the year, but it marks one of the darkest days in the FCC’s recent history,” he said.

Both McDowell and Baker, who complained they didn’t see the final order until after 11:30 p.m. on Monday, predicted the order would be tested in court. Both Verizon and AT&T are considering filing suit.

The backlash from Congress came within hours after the FCC concluded its meeting. Incoming chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), along with Energy and Commerce Subcommittee chairs Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), and Energy and Commerce member Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) held a press conference outlining their next steps to reverse the FCC’s order.

“There is going to be no stone left unturned,” said Upton, who cited three avenues to overturn the order: the use of the Congressional Review Act, new legislation and defunding. “We believe the commission overstepped their bounds and we intend to put a bridle on them and rein them in.”

Net neutrality could be the first hearing for the Energy and Commerce Committee under Republican leadership. “This will be the first hearing out of the box,” vowed Walden. “We’re troubled by the FCC’s process and the policy. More troubling are the legal theories that underpin [the order]. We see this as a power grab by the FCC.”

On the Democratic side, a number of Congressional leaders threw support behind the FCC including Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), whose draft legislation was the basis for the FCC’s order, Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).