FCC Reinstates Network Neutrality Rules with New Regulations

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has announced the reinstatement of network neutrality rules, marking a significant regulatory shift in the telecommunications landscape. The decision, which readopts the 2015 conclusion, categorizes Broadband Internet Access Service (BIAS) as a telecommunications service rather than an information service, subjecting it to increased oversight and regulation.

Under the new regulations, BIAS providers are required to adhere to certain obligations, including offering services on fair and non-discriminatory terms, ensuring accessibility for people with disabilities, complying with FCC information collection requirements, and cooperating with law enforcement. However, the FCC has exempted certain specialized services and broadband services provided to businesses from being treated as telecommunications services.

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One notable change from the previous order is the inclusion of Section 214 of the Communications Act, which governs entry and exit from the interstate telecommunications business, expanding regulatory scope over BIAS providers. Additionally, the FCC has granted blanket authority to provide BIAS to all providers except for specific Chinese entities prohibited from offering telecommunications services in the US.

The reinstated network neutrality rules encompass various provisions aimed at preserving an open and equal internet environment. These include prohibitions on blocking lawful content and services, throttling specific content or services, and engaging in paid or affiliate prioritization. BIAS providers are also restricted from engaging in conduct that undermines the purpose of the rules, with transparency requirements reinstated to ensure customers are informed about network performance and management practices.

Despite the reinstatement of these rules, BIAS providers retain the right to engage in reasonable network management practices, subject to oversight by the FCC. Additionally, the order reinstates requirements for BIAS providers to exchange traffic with content and service providers on reasonable terms and conditions, with complaints regarding traffic exchange to be considered on a case-by-case basis.

State laws that align with or impose lesser burdens on BIAS providers in accordance with the reinstated network neutrality rules will be enforceable, while laws imposing additional burdens may be preempted and deemed unenforceable. Notably, the FCC has determined that the California network neutrality law is not subject to preemption.

The new regulations will come into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, with certain rules requiring approval by the Federal Office of Management and Budget. However, as with previous network neutrality orders, the decision is expected to face legal challenges, with appeals likely to be lodged. Until a court decision is reached, the rules will remain in effect, shaping the regulatory landscape for BIAS providers and ensuring the preservation of an open Internet environment.