What Will New Network Neutrality Rules Bring?

No blocking of lawful content has been U.S. Federal Communications Commission policy since 2005, and a policy guide since 2004. Transparency likewise has been policy since 2005.

In 2010, the FCC added new network neutrality rules that eventually were struck down in the courts, largely because the court ruled the Commission did not have authority to issue the rules, which essentially mandated that nothing but “best effort” Internet access could be provided by any fixed network Internet service provider.

Though much hinges on the details, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler argues that the original principles still will be reflected in the new proposed rules. As always before since 2004, the new rules will specify that no lawful content can be blocked and that ISPs must act transparently in making information about terms and conditions of service, as well as network management policies, available to subscribers.

The new arguably new interpretation to the original rules is that “ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner” by favoring their own applications and services. In the past, that notion has more strictly insisted on “best effort only” delivery of all Internet traffic.

You can make your own judgments about whether the new proposed rules simply affirm the older rules, or in fact actually change them.

Opponents of the proposed rules will argue that the FCC’s new network neutrality rules actually change the concept dramatically, allowing ISPs to negotiate with app providers for quality of service guarantees that were prohibited before.

The new rules presumably will establish both a baseline for best effort Internet traffic, as well as allowing for voluntary commercial agreements with content and app providers to provide quality of service mechanisms like those provided on the backbone of the network by content delivery networks such as Akamai.

In that one sense, the new network neutrality rules actually can be viewed as changing the key provision of the older network neutrality rules, namely that all packets would receive “best effort only” delivery.

The new rules presumably will allow managed services--content delivery networks to the end user location--so long as all applications can purchase such features on the same terms as any apps owned by the ISP itself.

So, oddly enough, though many considered network neutrality dead when the courts struck down the original rules, a resurrected network neutrality regime--though keeping the name--arguably implements just the policies the original framework aimed to implement.

Predictably, original net neutrality supporters will not like the change, while ISPs will be relieved.

Perhaps the way now is cleared for creation of any number of managed services that ensure the quality of video streaming and voice services using Internet delivery.

Apple, a user of content delivery services itself, wants just that from Comcast, for example.

We'll have to wait for issuance of the proposed rules to find out for sure. But it sure sounds as though a major change is coming.

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