Ever since the FCC announced their proposed rules on net neutrality, there has been massive misinformation from news outlets, commentators, politicians and political groups. The proposed rulings repeatedly state that the provisions are subject to network management, don't impede law enforcement or emergency preparedness and don't require providers to allow illegal activity, such as copyright infringement or pirating. Anyone who says differently is either misinformed or lying. You don't have to believe me. Go read the 107 pages yourself.
Let's get the facts out. The proposed rules are just that: proposed rules. The FCC is seeking comments on language to ensure that service providers can't arbitrarily block or degrade legal Internet activity. In other words--and pay attention here--the FCC is trying to create rules to preserve your freedom of speech and your ability to access legal content on the Internet. A very important component in achieving this is to allow service providers to engage in reasonable network management practices (which have yet to be defined) and not to impede law enforcement or emergency preparedness. After an input period, the FCC will come up with rules that seek to balance these competing issues.
Some service providers, notably Comcast, have a history of trying to block traffic on their networks. Around 2001 to 2003, reports were surfacing that Comcast was blocking IPSec VPN traffic to/from residential broadband customers in order to force those customers to purchase business class service, because in Comcast's mind, IPSec VPN is only used by businesses. Then in 2006/2007, Comcast was again caught arbitrarily throttling P2P traffic and other applications. Various rumors, unsubstantiated as far as I know, have been flying about providers blocking VoIP and streaming media.
Similar claims of arbitrary content blocking have been leveled against Verizon Wireless for blocking an abortion rights group from sending SMS messages and AT&T for redacting some anti-Bush lyrics from a Pearl Jam concert webcast. Both incidents, the companies claim, were isolated incidents and mistakes made by over zealous employees or contractors.
Here are the six principles of the Proposed Rules:
- Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user's choice over the Internet.
- Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user's choice.
- Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not prevent any of its users from connecting to and using on its network the user's choice of lawful devices that do not harm the network.
- Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not deprive any of its users of the user's entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers.
- Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service must treat lawful content, applications and services in a nondiscriminatory manner.
- Subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service must disclose such information concerning network management and other practices as is reasonably required for users and content, application and service providers to enjoy the protections specified in this part.