A critical victory? Implications of the latest net neutrality ruling

We outline yesterday’s FCC ruling on net neutrality, and briefly discuss its implications.

The debate on net neutrality has been protracted and acrimonious. The topic was among our earliest posts when we launched ICT Pulse, in January 2011, and it has not yet been resolved. The United States of America (US) has been the most prominent battleground, where lobbyists – both for and against net neutrality – members of the US Congress and the President, have all been weighing in on the subject.

The dawning of a new age?

Yesterday, 26 February, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued an important ruling in favour net neutrality. With the purpose of maintaining an Open Internet, the organisation set out the following three rules in its decision:

Bright Line Rules: The first three rules ban practices that are known to harm the Open Internet:

  • No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.
  • No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration of any kind—in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

(Source: FCC)

Essentially the ruling supports equal and fair access to the Internet. Internet Service providers (ISPs) are not allowed to offer preferential high-speed services to those prepared to pay, or degrade or block the service of others.

In the ruling, the FCC also classified the Internet as a utility. Hence it will subject to regulatory oversight, and Internet providers will no longer have unfettered control over their services.

What does this all mean for us in the Caribbean?

Although there might still be a sense of euphoria among net neutrality advocates since the FCC’s ruling, it is important to emphasise that the ruling was not a unanimous decision. It was split 3—2 along US political party lines, which highlights how deeply and closely contested the debate has been. Hence although the ruling will not be effective until later in the year, the major US ISPs are expected to contest the ruling, which could eventually end up in the US Supreme Court (for the final decision). Further, with US presidential elections due in 2016, a change in leadership could also have an impact on whether the FCC ruling is implemented, and the posture that is adopted moving forward.

Having said this, and since the FCC decision is to maintain the status quo, no real change is how the Internet is operated and managed should occur. The service contracts that were established earlier this week should still be effective into the foreseeable future. However, there is still a sense that yesterday’s victory might be short-lived as the battle continues.


Image credit: mdavidford (flickr)