FCC “Open Internet” Rules: Regulating the Web

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The FCC’s Open Internet Rules go into effect November 20, 2011.

The White House’s OMB (Office of Management and Budget) has completed its review, and now the FCC’s “Open Internet” rules (The Report and Order are available for viewing here.) are scheduled to go into effect November 20, 2011. Whether or not this regulation of the World Wide Web is within the FCC’s authority, is it a good thing for consumers?

Challenges to the FCC’s Authority to Regulate the Internet

Despite opposition from carriers such as Verizon and MetroPCS, and House Republicans, among others, the FCC presents an unwavering view that it does, in fact, have the authority to regulate the Internet. The FCC specifically addresses its authority to make these rules in the Rules document itself:

“These rules are within our jurisdiction over interstate and foreign
communications by wire and radio. Further, they implement specific statutory mandates in the Communications Act (“Act”) and the Telecommunications Act of 1996 (“1996 Act”), including provisions that direct the Commission to promote Internet investment and to protect and promote voice, video, and audio communications services.”

However, in a statement released in January, 2011 to discuss Verizon’s appeal of the FCC’s Net Neutrality Order,  Michael E. Glover, Verizon senior vice president and deputy general counsel, said, in part:

“We are deeply concerned by the FCC’s assertion of broad authority for sweeping new regulation of broadband networks and the Internet itself.  We believe this assertion of authority goes well beyond any authority provided by Congress, and creates uncertainty for the communications industry, innovators, investors and consumers.”

In February, 2011, House Republicans passed H.J. 37, a resolution subtitled, “Disapproving the rule submitted by the Federal Communications Commission with respect to regulating the Internet and broadband industry practices.” This was followed by a May, 2011 statement by Representative Bob Goodlatte, (R-VA) chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet. Rep. Goodlatte said the following:

“And make no mistake: the Open Internet Order exceeds the FCC’s power. Congress has never given the FCC the authority to impose this sort of top-down regulation of Internet services.”

 FCC Open Internet Effects on Consumers

How will the new rules (if implemented) affect consumers? A thorough read of the proposed rules makes it clear that consumers should not expect an immediate positive or negative impact, since the rules are intended to prevent Broadband Internet Providers from hurting consumers in a variety of potential ways, rather than correcting any improper practices that are currently in place. Although there are those (including the ISPs affected) who feel that the regulations will stifle investment and innovation, there’s no way to know for sure until and unless the rules are enacted.

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