Skip Links

FAQ: What's the FCC vote on net neutrality all about?

FCC takes an initial step toward possible rules governing the use of the Internet

By , Network World
October 22, 2009 02:34 PM ET

Network World - The FCC has approved a notice of proposed rule making on the subject of net neutrality, and here are a few questions and answers to help shine a light on what that means.

FCC takes first step toward net neutrality rules

What exactly did the FCC do?

The FCC agreed to consider what regulations, if any, to impose on ISPs about the applications and services that they allow, ban or rate limit. The process calls for formally proposing rules and holding public hearings on them. A vote about the rules themselves will take place sometime next year.

What is net neutrality anyway?

It is the common name for creating and preserving what the FCC calls the "open Internet".

The FCC is trying to write rules that enforce six principles it says ISPs must uphold to preserve what the commission calls the "open Internet". These rules would tell ISPs to:
* allow sending and receiving all lawful content.
* allow all lawful applications and services.
* allow all lawful devices that don't harm the network.
* allow access to all network, application, service and content providers.
* ensure there is no discrimination against particular lawful content, applications, services and devices.
* reveal practices necessary network management that might limit the other five principles.

Who wants it?

A majority of the FCC, Google and other Internet-based companies, consumer advocacy groups and Internet luminaries such as Vinton Cerf and Tim Berners-Lee. They fear that without rules, ISPs will impose tiered service levels, making the top-level services so expensive as to rule out their use by innovators trying to start Internet-based businesses. They are also concerned that selectively banning certain applications such as VoIP will reduce consumer choice about how to make voice calls. There have been cases where ISPs blocked VoIP and rate-limited peer-to-peer traffic like that used for gaming and file sharing.

Who's opposed to it?

The loudest opposition comes from AT&T, Verizon and other Internet providers. They say the rules would block charging extra for premium services, the financial incentive they need to invest in network upgrades that keep traffic running smoothly. They say the rules would unfairly restrict what they call differentiating services that might justify higher rates than competitors charge. They say the consequences of net-neutrality rules would be one of two things: higher flat rates for services or paying by the byte for Internet traffic.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) also has introduced a bill to block the FCC’s net neutrality rules.

What does it mean to businesses?

If net neutrality prompts higher Internet access rates for all-you-can-eat ISP services, businesses would have higher ISP bills. Usage-based fees might or might not increase costs to individual businesses depending on how much they use the Internet. Businesses that rely on the Internet to provide services might face decreased demand if their customers are forced to buy more-expensive services in order to consume their products. For example, a business that sells HD video downloads over the Internet might sell less if customers have to buy premium Internet access in order to enjoy a movie.

Our Commenting Policies
Latest News
rssRss Feed
View more Latest News