The FCC and Net Neutrality

In April 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler proposed new rules regarding internet access and transparency. Until these proposed rules were announced, the FCC required Internet service providers (ISPs) to use nondiscriminatory practices for the transfer and treatment of web-based content. Nondiscriminatory practices ensure that ISPs allow all web sites to users to access and download content at the same speed, without giving preference to any specific sites or content. The April 2014 rules, however, permitted what experts called a “fast lane” – the ability for certain websites and ISPs to pay higher fees to ensure that their content is transmitted at a higher speed during periods of high demand. These rules, referred to as FCC 14-63 [PDF], were formally adopted by the FCC in May 2014. The FCC insisted that the new rules would promote competition by lowering prices, improving quality and increasing the number of ISPs.

Following public outcry for the adoption of the new FCC ISP rules, US President Barack Obama released a statement in November 2014 supporting net neutrality. In the statement, Obama called for the FCC to acknowledge nearly 4 million public comments received in response to the May 2014 rules, and to promote rules that protect net neutrality and prevent ISPs from restricting Internet access. Independent analysis of the first 800,000 comments received found that less than one percent opposed net neutrality enforcement.

FCC Chairman Wheeler reinforced Obama’s dedication to net neutrality in a February 2015 essay in WIRED magazine, in which he promoted several “bright line rules” that would ban paid prioritization and the blocking and throttling of “lawful” content and services. Wheeler officially proposed new net neutrality rules on February 4, 2015. The rules [PDF] were approved by the FCC on February 26, 2015 and released on March 12, 2015.

The proposed rules would preclude ISPs or broadband providers from “blocking” (denying access to legal content, applications, services or non-harmful devices), “throttling” (impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services or non-harmful devices) or offering “paid prioritization” (favoring lawful Internet traffic over other lawful Internet traffic in exchange for consideration).

Pro-net neutrality organizations, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (a leading nonprofit organization advocating for access, privacy and innovation in the digital realm), applauded the February 26, 2015 proposed rules, including its prevention of ISPs’ and broadband providers’ ability to allow special treatment in exchange for money and the simultaneous application of the rules to both wired and wireless broadband. Following the February 26, 2015 approval of the rules, President Obama released a statement praising the many Americans who submitted comments to the FCC and again reinforcing his political stance in favor of net neutrality.