The U.S. government issued a rule preventing “fixed broadband” Internet service providers from blocking applications that compete with a provider’s voice or video telephony services.
On Sept. 23, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) posted a Federal Register notice—Preserving the Open Internet; Final Rule—that “establishes protections for broadband service to preserve and reinforce Internet freedom and openness.”
As part of the rule—which becomes effective Nov. 20, 2011—the FCC lists “three basic protections that are grounded in broadly accepted Internet norms,” as well as the commission’s prior decisions. The three protections are:
Transparency: fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics, and commercial terms of their broadband services.
No blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.
No unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.
The FCC says the Internet has thrived because of its freedom and openness, and the absence of any gatekeeper blocking lawful uses of the network or “picking winners and losers online.”
Consumers and innovators do not have to seek permission before they use the Internet to launch new technologies, start businesses, connect with friends, or share their views, the FCC says. The Internet is a level playing field and consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use and are free to decide what content they want to access, create or share with others, the commission says. That openness promotes competition and it enables a self-reinforcing cycle of investment and innovation in which new uses of the network lead to increased adoption of broadband, which drives investment and improvements in the network itself, which in turn lead to further innovative uses of the network and further investment in content, applications, services and devices, according to the commission.
However, the openness of the Internet cannot be taken for granted, and that it faces real threats including broadband providers blocking or degrading content and applications without disclosing their practices to end users and edge providers, the FCC says. In addition, the commission says it issued the basic standards for broadband provider conduct because of the limited choices most consumers have for broadband service, that broadband providers’ financial interests in telephony and pay television services might compete with online content and services, and to ensure the economic and civic benefits of maintaining an open and competitive platform for innovation and communication.