Today the Congressional Research Service released The Net Neutrality Debate: Access to Broadband Networks. If I still worked a Reference Desk, this would be right by my phone. (Assuming I work a Reference Desk on broadband.)
It’s an easy-to-read, well organized what’s what on Net Neutrality. And it’s the document most likely to be read by legislators. Here’s the summary…
As congressional policymakers continue to debate telecommunications reform, a major discussion point revolves around what approach should be taken to ensure unfettered access to the Internet. The move to place restrictions on the owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet, to ensure equal access and nondiscriminatory treatment, is referred to as “net neutrality.” While there is no single accepted definition of “net neutrality,” most agree that any such definition should include the general principles that owners of the networks that compose and provide access to the Internet should not control how consumers lawfully use that network, and they should not be able to discriminate against content provider access to that network.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its February 26, 2015, open meeting voted 3-2, along party lines, to adopt new open Internet rules and released these rules on March 12, 2015. One of the most controversial aspects of the rules is the decision to reclassify broadband Internet access service as telecommunications service under Title II thereby subjecting Internet service providers to a more stringent regulatory framework. With limited exceptions, the rules went into effect June 12, 2015. Various parties challenged the legality of the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, but the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, in a June 14, 2016, ruling, voted (2-1) to uphold the legality of all aspects the 2015 FCC Order. A petition for full court review was denied leaving the next legal option a petition for U.S. Supreme Court review.
The announcement that FCC Chairman Pai offered a draft Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to reexamine the rules adopted in 2015, with an eye to considering a less regulatory approach, has once again opened up the debate over what the appropriate framework is to ensure an open Internet. Reaction to this draft proposal has been mixed. Some see the current FCC rules as regulatory overreach and welcome a more “light-touch” approach which they feel will stimulate broadband investment, deployment and innovation. Others fully support the current 2015 regulations and feel that their modification will result in a concentration of power to the detriment of content, services, and applications providers, as well as consumers, and refute the claim that these regulations have had a negative impact on broadband investment, expansion or innovation. To date, congressional action in the 115th Congress has focused on two aspects of the current rules: privacy (S.J.Res. 34, S. 878, S. 964, H.J.Res. 86, H.Res. 230, H.R. 1754, H.R. 1868) and transparency (S. 228, H.R. 288). The FCC’s move to reexamine its existing open Internet rules has reopened the debate over whether Congress should consider a more comprehensive measure to amend existing law to provide greater regulatory stability and guidance to the FCC. Whether Congress will choose to address more comprehensive legislation, to amend the 1934 Communications Act, to provide a broad-based framework for such regulation, remains to be seen.