FCC: We're Going to Make Net Neutrality the Law

Well, that's pretty decisive. Following weeks of hints, clues and noisy corporate whining, the FCC has laid out their plan: Following a public vetting process, they're cracking down on all things not neutral.

The event is still happening, but they got right to the meat. Here are the proposed guidelines—the first four are old, drawn from a nonbinding policy statement the FCC made regarding net neutrality in 2005, and the latter two, the ones that matter, are new:

Under the draft rules, subject to reasonable network management, a provider of broadband Internet access service may not:

1) prevent any of its users from sending or receiving the lawful content of the user's choice over the Internet;

2) prevent any of its users from running the lawful applications or using the lawful services of the user's choice;

3) 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;

4) deprive any of its users of the user's entitlement to competition among network providers, application providers, service providers, and content providers.

5) A provider of broadband Internet access service must treat lawful content, applications, and services in a nondiscriminatory manner.

6) 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 rulemaking

Now, this is just a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, so it's not yet an actual, binding rule; this is the stage where the FCC seeks public comment on their proposal, after which they adjust (or not!) accordingly. The draft proposal, which Chairman Julius Genachowski and co. are universally expected to follow through on, would be open to scrutiny until January 14th. The biggest issue up for debate, aside from the core principles, is how to apply them.

The Notice will seek comment and input on these principles and their affect on internet services. With the tremendous growth of mobile and wireless broadband enabled devices, there will be a large question concerning the application of these principles to those devices.

That's the literal billion dollar question, which, rest assured, armies of lobbyists have a ready answer for.

What's important, though, is that this is what they intend to do, which is fantastic for net neutrality proponents, if not, you know, objectively fantastic—an open internet means no tiered service, sure, but the possible data caps and metered bandwith—two ways telcos and ISPs can recoup heavy users' bandwidth costs in the near-term—probably wouldn't be too popular either.

UPDATE: The five commissioners have now voted on the NPRM; here's how it shook out:

FCC votes on Open Internet NPRM: Genachowski, Clyburn & Copps in favor. Baker & McDowell dissent in part, concur in part

If I've got my procedural rulemaking protocols right (this is the iffiest of ifs, by the way), that means the process is going forward. Mazel tov, FCC.

UPDATE 2: Ars has a skeptical piece up about the vagueness of some of the proposed rules, specifically the definition of "reasonable network management processes" as it concerns rule six. It's fascinating, but presumably exactly the kind of thing that'll be publicly discussed during the vetting process. [FCC]