Monday, March 9, 2015

Reply from Senator Kaine

March 9, 2015

Mr. Robert Alexander
615 Carys Chapel Rd
Yorktown, VA  23693-2509

Dear Mr. Alexander:

Thank you for contacting me about net neutrality.  I appreciate hearing your views about government and corporate control over the Internet.

Net neutrality refers to the idea that governments and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) - AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Cox, or Time Warner Cable - should treat all data on the Internet equally.  This includes general principles that owners of the networks should not block content or degrade network performance based on the type of user, content, site, application, or platform.

In 2010 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted an Open Internet Order that established rules governing network management practices, including establishing rules on transparency, blocking, and unreasonable discrimination.  On January 14, 2014 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia struck down several parts of the Open Internet Order in the case, Verizon v. FCC.  The court ruled that because the FCC classified ISPs as information services under Title I of the Communications Act (as opposed to a public utility, which is regulated under Title II), it did not have the statutory authority to require ISPs to treat all Internet traffic equally or to impose anti-blocking and anti-discrimination (the heart of the Open Internet Order) on broadband Internet service.  The court's decision was based in part on the FCC's own ruling in 2002 that ISPs are not similar enough to public utilities to warrant strict regulations like those imposed on phone companies and other utilities.

The FCC unveiled its proposed changes to the Open Internet Order on May 15, 2014.  The proposed rule asked for public comments on allowing ISPs to charge content providers for faster and more reliable service and whether the FCC should classify ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act, among other provisions.

After taking into account nearly four million comments, on February 26, 2015 the FCC adopted its new rule by a vote of 3 to 2.  The rule forbids paid prioritization (also called internet fast lanes) that would have allowed ISPs and content providers (e.g. Netflix or Amazon) to pay to speed up delivery of streaming video or online gaming services.  The rule also prohibits ISPs from blocking websites, gives the FCC authority to intervene when large cable companies do not act in the public interest, and includes network management practices that prevent bandwidth throttling (the intentional slowing down of Internet service).  In addition to wired lines, mobile data services for smartphones and tablets will be subject to the new rules.

The new rule also reclassifies ISPs as a common carrier service under Title II of the Communications Act.  This means that ISPs will be subject to regulations similar to those imposed on public utilities like phone companies; however, the new rules allow the FCC to forbear from imposing certain provisions of Title II.  For example, the FCC will not be involved on pricing or engineering decisions made by companies in managing their networks, wireless data caps will still be in effect, and broadband providers will not be required to increase network speeds.

Supporters of the FCC's new rule believe that paid prioritization would have favored better-financed companies that could have afforded to pay, thus stifling innovation from smaller companies or start-ups.  Supporters also believe that the consolidation of Internet providers and the diversification of broadband providers into content providers will lead to discriminatory behaviors, such as favoring network-owned content and slowing or blocking downloads from certain websites.  Opponents believe the new rules will slow development and access to the Internet and that ISPs should be free to decide how they deliver content; further, they caution that ISPs will pass along the cost of maintaining a neutral network to consumers or that it will be too costly to build out their networks to rural areas.

Please be assured I will continue to monitor the FCC's implementation of its rule and any further developments with respect to it.  Again, thank you for contacting me.


Tim Kaine

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