Tag Archives: Telecommunications Policies

New FCC Open Internet Order Incorporates Proposals Made in Filings by Libraries and Higher Education

On Thursday, February 26, 2015 the FCC adopted its Open Internet Order, ensuring that Internet providers cannot create “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” by reclassifying broadband under Title II of the Communications Act while also relying on the FCC’s authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. Relying on both sources of legal authority strengthens the ability of the FCC to protect net neutrality. As noted, in ARL’s February 26th press release, the fact sheet released by the FCC when it voted in favor of the new Order, indicated that the Commission had incorporated many of the joint principles filed by libraries and higher education organizations.

The FCC has now released the text of its Report and Order which explicitly recognizes the role of libraries and institutions of higher education, including several citations and references to comments ARL filed with other library and higher education associations in July and September of 2014. The FCC’s final order represents improvements over the initial proposed rules. ARL applauds the FCC’s decision to strongly protect the open Internet and its responsiveness to the concerns of libraries and higher education.

In its report, the FCC notes the importance of net neutrality, including for specific communities:

Open Internet rules benefit investors, innovators, and end users by providing more certainty to each regarding broadband providers’ behavior, and helping to ensure the market is conducive to optimal use of the Internet. Open Internet rules are also critical for ensuring that people living and working in rural areas can take advantage of the substantial benefits that the open Internet has to offer. In minority communities where many individuals’ only Internet connection may be through a mobile device, robust open Internet rules help make sure these communities are not negatively impacted by harmful broadband provider conduct. Such rules additionally provide essential safeguards to ensure that the Internet flourishes as a platform for education and research.

The FCC’s new rules provide for bright-line rules that prohibit blocking, throttling and paid prioritization. The Order and Report explains:

105. No-Blocking. First, we adopt a bright-line rule prohibiting broadband providers from blocking lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices. This “no-blocking” principle has long been a cornerstone of the Commission’s policies. While first applied in the Internet context as part of the Commission’s Internet Policy Statement, the no-blocking concept dates back to the Commission’s protection of end users’ rights to attach lawful, non-harmful devices to communications networks.

106. No-Throttling. Second, we adopt a separate bright-line rule prohibiting broadband providers from impairing or degrading lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, application, service, or use of non-harmful device. This conduct was prohibited under the commentary to the no-blocking rule adopted in the 2010 Open Internet Order. 241 However, to emphasize the importance of this concept we delineate under a separate rule a ban on impairment or degradation, to prevent broadband providers from engaging in behavior other than blocking that negatively impacts consumers’ use of content, applications, services, and devices.

107. No Paid Prioritization. Third, we respond to the deluge of public comment expressing deep concern about paid prioritization. Under the rule we adopt today, the Commission will ban all paid prioritization subject to a narrow waiver process.

The waiver process involves a “rare circumstance” where the “broadband provider can convincingly show that its practice would affirmatively benefit the open Internet.”

The FCC report and order notes the problem of paid prioritization, including that it will “introduce artificial barriers to entry, distort the market, harm competition, harm consumers.” In its discussion of paid prioritization, the FCC cites the comments filed by libraries and higher education in July 2014 which pointed out that “it is likely that those who are able to pay for preferential treatment will pass along their costs to their consumers and/or subscribers. In some cases, libraries and other public institutions may be among these subscribers who would then be forced to pay more for services they may broker on behalf of their patrons.”

Although Chairman Wheeler initially proposed using a “commercially reasonable” standard in assessing the conduct of broadband providers, library and higher education groups expressed concerns that this standard might not adequately protect the open character of the Internet. The final report and order reveals that the FCC has clearly listened to these concerns and instead adopts a standard that prohibits unreasonable interference with an end user’s ability to access lawful content or an edge provider’s ability to make such content available. The FCC states, “Based on the record before us, we are persuaded that adopting a legal standard prohibiting commercially unreasonable practices is not the most effective or appropriate approach for protecting and promoting an open Internet.” Rather than adopting a “commercially reasonable standard,” the FCC

adopt[s] this standard to prohibit practices in the broadband Internet access provider’s network that harm Internet openness, similar to the approach proposed by the Higher Education coalition and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Specifically, we require that:

Any person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage (i) end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or (ii) edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users. Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule.

The FCC’s order also ensures that libraries and higher education institutions are protected under the net neutrality rules. While the definition of “mass market” remains the same as defined under the 2010 Open Internet Order (“a service marketed and sold on a standardized basis to residential customers, small businesses and other end-user customers such as schools and libraries”), the FCC recognizes the potential ambiguity in the definition. The order continues:

To be clear, ‘mass market’ includes broadband Internet access services purchased with support of the E-rate and Rural Healthcare programs, as well as any broadband Internet access service offered using networks supported by the Connect America Fund (CAF). To the extent that institutions of higher learning purchase mass market services, those institutions would be included within the scope of the schools and libraries portion of our definition.

Additionally, the Chairman’s initial proposal included “the creation of an ombudsperson to act as a watchdog to represent the interests of consumers, start-ups and small businesses.” The comments filed by libraries and higher education asked for these groups to be included in this list of interests. The FCC’s final order does this by allowing complaints by “individuals and organizations,” rather than seeming to limit access to start-ups and small businesses.

As with the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, it is likely that challenges will be brought against the 2015 Order. ARL will continue to monitor these issues and work to ensure that the open character of the Internet is preserved.


ARL Applauds Federal Communications Commission Decision to Support Net Neutrality

Cross-posted from ARL News, originally posted on Thursday, February 26, 2015

*Updated March 4, 2015 to include links to statements by ALA and EDUCAUSE*

The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted today, February 26, 2015, in favor of adopting rules to protect and promote the open Internet, also known as net neutrality. With today’s vote passing the 2015 Open Internet Order, the FCC can ensure that Internet providers do not create “fast lanes”—designated for those willing and able to pay a premium—and “slow lanes”—for everyone else—and that the Internet remains open and available to all.

The Association of Research Libraries (ARL) applauds the Open Internet Order, which reclassifies the Internet under Title II of the Communications Act and also relies upon the FCC’s authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act to provide a strong legal basis to protect net neutrality. As both providers and consumers of content and services on the Internet, research libraries and their parent institutions have long relied on the open character of the Internet, including non-discriminatory access.

Deborah Jakubs, president of ARL, said, “Libraries, colleges, and universities have long championed, advanced, and provided critical intellectual freedoms such as education, research, learning, free speech, and innovation. These freedoms rely on net neutrality, and today’s vote at the FCC ensures that network operators cannot act as gatekeepers and place commercial interests above non-commercial expression.”

Ultimately, the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order recognizes the fact that the open Internet is increasingly critical to the way information is shared and disseminated today. ARL congratulates the FCC on its decision, which incorporates many of the joint principles filed by library and higher education organizations and will allow the research library community to continue to offer a growing number of distance learning services, online course instruction, and access to extensive digital content, as well as promote new innovations.

*Update: See statements of the American Libraries Association and EDUCAUSE.

FCC Proposes New Rules to Protect Net Neutrality

On Wednesday, February 4, 2015, Chairman Wheeler proposed long-anticipated rules governing the open Internet, also known as net neutrality, which is critical for education, research, learning, innovation and free speech.  The rules rely on the FCC’s legal authority under Title II and Section 706, will apply to fixed as well as mobile broadband, and will prohibit conduct such as blocking or paid prioritization.  These rules will be voted on at the FCC’s meeting on February 26.

The proposal reclassifies broadband under Title II of the Communications Act, subjecting broadband service to “common carriage” rules.  As noted in the fact sheet, “both the service to the end user and to the edge provider are classified under Title II.”

The proposal also relies on its authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996, providing greater legal certainty: “Notably, the Verizon court held that Section 706 is an independent grant of authority to the Commission that supports adoption of Open Internet rules.  Using it here — without the limitations of the common carriage prohibition that flowed from earlier classification decisions — bolsters the Commission’s authority.”

The proposal “recognizing the advances in technology and the growing significance of wireless broadband access in recent years” applies to mobile, as well as fixed, broadband service.

It also issues several bright line rules:

  • No Blocking: broadband providers may not block access to legal content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices.

  • No Throttling: broadband providers may not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of content, applications, services or non-harmful devices.

  • No Paid Prioritization: broadband providers may not favor some lawful Internet traffic over other lawful traffic in exchange for consideration — in other words, no “fast lanes.” This rule also bans ISPs from prioritizing content and services of their affiliates.

The Chairman’s proposal also discusses forbearance, listing various provisions that will specifically apply as well as those that the FCC will forbear from enforcement.  The proposal states that broadband providers will not be subject to rate regulation, will not require broadband providers to contribute to the Universal Service Fund, and will not impose or authorize new taxes or fees.

By relying on both its Title II and Section 706 authority, Chairman Wheeler’s proposal will provide a strong legal basis to ensure that the open character of the Internet is preserved and that the Internet is not divided into fast lanes and slow lanes based on the ability or willingness to pay for enhanced access.

Net neutrality update: FCC and Congress simultaneously considering new rules

Federal Communications Commission

After last year’s decision by the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit striking down anti-blocking and anti-discrimination provisions in the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, the FCC has been considering new rules to protect net neutrality. Initially, it appeared that the FCC was likely to continue to rely on its authority under Section 706 to protect net neutrality (in the decision rejecting provisions in the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, the D.C. Circuit did uphold the FCC’s broad authority to regulate broadband services). Numerous groups strongly advocated for the FCC to reclassify broadband under Title II rather than relying on Section 706.

Since the FCC’s initial Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, President Obama has come out in favor of reclassification as a means of ensuring net neutrality.

Reports now indicate that Chairman Wheeler will propose reclassification of broadband, allowing the FCC to treat broadband providers as common carriers. Reclassification will enable the FCC to protect the open character of the Internet by strengthening the legal basis for its anti-discrimination and, in particular, its anti-blocking provisions. One of the issues under consideration by the FCC is what provisions under Title II it will chose to “forbear” from or not enforce; many provisions that apply to common carriers may not be applicable to Internet service providers.

There is also a question of whether the FCC’s rules will simultaneously rely on its Section 706 authority. Using Section 706 authority as a backup will help strengthen the net neutrality rules, particularly rules against paid prioritization.

Chairman Wheeler is expected to circulate his proposal to the other commissioners on February 5, with a vote on the rules planned for February 26.


While the FCC is expected to move forward with its net neutrality rules, Congress appears to be preparing to address this issue, as well. Hearings on net neutrality were held in both the Senate and House of Representatives on January 21.

Prior to these hearings, a discussion draft bill was released on January 16, 2015 and would create a new Title X to the Communications Act to deal specifically with broadband providers, rather than reclassifying broadband providers as a common carrier under Title II or using Section 706 authority.

While the draft bill would ban paid prioritization, there are several concerns regarding the discussion draft.

First, the language in the draft bill could provide considerable discretion to Internet service providers in determining what is “reasonable network management.”

Additionally, the bill includes language that states “nothing in this section . . . prohibits reasonable efforts by a provider of broadband Internet access service to address copyright infringement or other unlawful activity.” These provisions could effectively create loopholes for broadband providers to circumvent bans against blocking or discrimination.

ARL, as a member of the Library Copyright Alliance (LCA), submitted a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology and House Committee on Energy and Commerce raising these concerns, noting that “Copyright holders could use this language to essentially enforce their copyrights, even if their claims are misleading or false.”

Another concern with the discussion draft is that the “mass market” definition in the bill does not address libraries and higher education. This was a problem with the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order, as well, and in an initial filing by a coalition of library and higher education organizations, including ARL, these groups noted that the definition of “mass market”

needs to be clarified to ensure that the term “other end-user customers” clearly includes institutions of higher education and other institutions that purchase standardized broadband Internet access service. Certainly, institutions of higher education are not “residential customers” or “small businesses.” There is some uncertainty about whether institutions of higher education (and their libraries) are included in the term “schools” because the term is sometimes interpreted as applying only to K-12 schools.

A similar clarification is needed in this draft bill.

ICYMI: President Obama Supports Net Neutrality, Urges Title II Reclassification

On November 10, 2014, President Obama issued a strong statement in support of net neutrality. In his statement, Obama recommended bright-line rules in certain areas, including rules against blocking, throttling and paid prioritization and enhanced rules on transparency. He also recommends that the FCC reclassify consumer broadband services as common carriers under Title II of the Telecommunications Act. You can watch the video and read the statement here.

President Obama’s support for net neutrality and recommendations on bright-line rules mirror some of the principles advocated for by ARL and other higher education and library organizations in submissions to the FCC.

ARL and ALA File Comments Opposing E-Reader Waiver Extension and Disability Tax

On October 27, 2014, the Association of Research Libraries (ARL) and the American Library Association (ALA) filed comments* with the FCC opposing the petition for waiver extension by e-reader manufacturers. On January 28, 2014, the FCC granted a one-year waiver of its advanced communication services (ACS) accessibility rules for “basic e-readers” considered to be “single-purpose reading devices that consumers use for accessing text-based works (i.e., reading), not for other purposes such as ACS.” The e-reader manufacturers recently filed a petition requesting an extension of this waiver, which essentially creates a tax for disabled persons purchasing basic e-reader devices.

In the filing, ARL and ALA explain how basic e-readers are used, including for “co-primary uses” which allow the user to connect to the Internet and use the device to communicate with others via e-mail and social media services. ARL and ALA oppose the extension of the waiver, noting that denying the e-reader manufacturers’ petition “is consistent with the public interest. Finally, ARL and ALA argue that if a waiver is extended, that the FCC should narrow the scope of the waiver class and limit its duration. The full comments can be found here.

The comments focus on heavily on the public interest, noting:

As discussed above, the Kindles and other basic e-readers are capable of accessing ACS in potentially very convenient and useful ways. Access to these features on these devices, by disabled persons weighs heavily in the public interest. A denial of the waiver extension will increase public access to ACS through the Coalition’s e-readers. By requiring that the Coalition include accessible ACS functionality with the browser, the Commission will be supporting increased access for print-disabled members of the public through universally designed devices available to all consumers

Appallingly, the e-reader manufacturers defend their request for extension by arguing that persons with disabilities can purchase a more expensive device to address accessibility needs. ARL and ALA also point out that this proposal effectively creates a disability tax. Furthermore, not only would the proposal require a disabled person to pay more for a device with accessibility features, but such devices also have drawbacks such as heavier weight and less battery life:

Under the current e-reader ACS regime proposed by the Coalition and tentatively adopted by the Commission, disabled persons must pay a ‘device access tax’. By availing oneself of one of the ‘accessible options’ as suggested by the Coalition, a disabled person would pay at minimum $20 more a device for a Kindle tablet that is heavier and has less battery life than a basic Kindle e-reader. There is also some irony that the Commission’s current waiver rules would suggest that a blind person would need to purchase a device that is marketed for its screen with a high refresh rate, high resolution, and vibrantly colored screen in order to get the proper accessibility. In order to get the features that they do need, the blind will be forced to pay for an array of features from which they cannot benefit. It is completely inappropriate to ‘tax’ those with disabilities who seek information on the same terms at the sighted. By requiring that all of the Coalition’s products include accessible ACS, it opens a market for the print-disabled for the same e-readers at the same price points as for other sectors of the public.

ARL and ALA oppose extension of the waiver, but suggest that if the Commission does extend it, the Commission should amend the current waiver class and ensure that the extension is time-limited. ARL and ALA note that the “the current slate of basic e-readers offered by Coalition members do not fall under even this overly-expansive waiver class, sufficient evidence and the public interest weigh heavily in favor of modif[ication].” The comments suggest that one of the requirements be amended to read “the device is not offered or shipped to consumers with built-in ACS client applications, including any browser, and the device manufacturer does not develop ACS applications for its respective device” so that those e-reader devices that have a co-primary uses, such as to access e-mails, are not exempted. The comments note that with this amendment, “Any truly single purpose non-ACS devices will still fall under the proposed waiver class should the Coalition seek waiver in the future.”

*These comments were prepared in collaboration with students from American University Washington College of Law’s Glushko-Samuleson Intellectual Property Law Clinic*

ARL and Eleven Other Library and Higher Education Organizations File Reply Comments on Net Neutrality

On Monday, September 15, 2014, twelve library and higher education organizations, including ARL, filed reply comments with the FCC on net neutrality in response to the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to protect and promote the open Internet. The FCC issued the NPRM following the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s January 2014 decision striking down the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order’s rules on no-blocking and anti-discrimination . Eleven of these organizations previously filed comments as well as net neutrality principles in July; the reply comments recommend that the FCC adopt the principles and strategies contained in these prior filings. In the reply comments, these groups continue emphasizing the importance of net neutrality in protecting free speech, educational achievement and economic growth. While the initial comments pointed out that the FCC could use its legal authority to reclassify broadband Internet services as a Title II “common carrier” or exercise its Section 706 authority, the reply comments focus on options under Section 706.

The comments point out the importance of the open Internet, also known as net neutrality, so that these institutions can carry out their missions and promote education, research and learning. The twelve organizations ask the FCC to “take special heed” of the importance of net neutrality for library and higher education institutions pointing out:

We are not aware of any commenters who disagreed with the importance of an open Internet for education, research, and learning. In fact, the New America Foundation specifically recognized the importance of an open Internet for schools, libraries and other public institutions.

At the same time, few commenters called attention to these needs, and the NPRM does not focus on these issues as much as it could. As an example, we note that the opening paragraph of the PRM released on May 15, 2014, does not use any of the words “education,” research” or learning.” … Recognizing the important public interest in education, research and learning throughout the FCC’s final order will help the commission orient its net neutrality policy in a way that recognizes these cherished public interest values.

The comments also note the concerns that without net neutrality, paid prioritization may occur as broadband providers would have the incentive and opportunity to divide the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes based on the ability or willingness to pay for enhanced access. The coalition of library and higher education institutions emphasize that, “If public broadband providers are allowed to prioritize or degrade certain Internet traffic, or discriminate in favor of or against certain content or applications, the future of the Internet as a platform for education, research learning, innovation and free speech will be put in jeopardy.”

Specifically, libraries and higher education institutions depend on the open Internet as they increasingly rely on access to and storage of information remotely, including subscriptions to online-only resources; serve as centers where people complete online education courses; act as partners with the Internet Archive to digitize and make accessible various materials; use the portal developed by the Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) to allow patrons to search and scan resources; and transition to cloud-based productivity application services to support faculty and student access to email, word processing and related applications as well as for administrative and learning management systems.

The comments also suggest that in addressing a no-blocking rule, the FCC could require that when a broadband provider chooses to offer Internet service, that provider must then fulfill the consumer’s decision to interact with his or her chosen edge provider and cannot block such access. This rule focuses on consumer choice, but does not obligate the broadband provider to serve every consumer as the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Order’s no-blocking rule did. This suggestion provides an alternative path for the FCC than a rule that would require providing a minimum level of service.

Building on the July filing, the reply comments again encourage the FCC to adopt an “Internet reasonable” standard to govern the relationship between broadband providers and edge providers rather than the FCC’s proposed “commercially reasonable” standard. Numerous groups and organizations, such as the Center for Democracy & Technology, Free Press, Public Knowledge, the New America Foundation, the Internet Association, the Communications and Computer Industry Association (CCIA), among others, have opposed the “commercially reasonable” standard because such a standard would likely be ineffective in preserving net neutrality. The reply comments suggest that an “Internet reasonable” standard would provide a more tailored approach that would evaluate impact on the Internet ecosystem. Additionally, the reply comments again propose that the FCC establish clear presumptions, such as against paid prioritization, on conduct that would violate the “Internet reasonable” standard.

Library and Higher Education Organizations File Net Neutrality Comments with the FCC

On July 18, 2014, ARL, together with ten other library and higher education groups filed comments with the FCC on net neutrality. These comments largely expand on the points made in the Net Neutrality Principles jointly filed by library and higher education groups on July 10, 2014, going into greater detail and making specific suggestions to strengthen the proposals made in the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Importance of Net Neutrality for Libraries and Higher Education

The comments point out that library and higher education organizations depend on the open Internet, or net neutrality, to carry out their missions and ensure the protection of freedom of speech, education achievement and economic growth. It notes that the essential character of the Internet is an open platform, promoting “the open exchange of information, intellectual discourse, research, free speech, technological creativity, innovation and learning.” The comments recommend that the FCC’s final order recognize the value of net neutrality for education, research and freedom of speech.

Specifically, the comments note that public libraries provide Internet access to their patrons, a particularly necessary service for the approximately one-third of the population that do not have broadband access at home but rely on such access for homework assignments, to locate e-government services, find health information, apply for jobs, share digital content and other activities. Higher education institutions make Internet access available to their students, faculty, researchers and administration. Many students today are also involved in distance learning—including MOOCs—or hybrid courses and therefore depend on the availability of high-bandwidth Internet access. Degradation of Internet transmission speeds would detrimentally impact these populations and activities.

The comments also provide seven specific examples of projects and services by libraries and higher education institutions that provide important access to information and culture but depend on net neutrality to disseminate. Three of these examples include:

  • The National Library of Medicine (NLM), the world’s largest medical library, provides a vast amount of information-based services, ranging from video tutorials to downloads of large genomic datasets. NLM provides valuable information and data to the public amounting to trillions of bytes each day disseminated to millions of users. Without rules to protect the open Internet, NLM’s ability to provide access to this important information would be jeopardized.
  • Columbia University created the 9/11 Oral History Project, focusing on the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center. The Project includes over 900 recorded hours on digital media. More than half of the collection is open and available to the public, and the entire archive will eventually be available for study and research. This content is currently used in New York City K-12 public schools.
  • After receiving over 2,500 boxes of records and documents and 12,000 promotional photographs from the New York World’s Fair of 1939 and 1940, the New York Public Library (NYPL) digitized the content and makes it available online. It provided the material in a free app that was later named one of Apple’s “Top Education Apps” of 2011 and is used in New York City K-12 public schools.

Specific Proposals to Strengthen the Proposed Rules

The joint comments lay out several specific proposals to strengthen those proposed rules published in the FCC’s NPRM. The FCC could strengthen the rules and address the concerns of libraries and higher education by:

  • Clarifying the definition of end-user customers to ensure that libraries, institutions of higher education and other public interest organizations are covered.
  • Prohibiting paid prioritization, which would divide the Internet into “fast lanes” and “slow lanes.” The comments note that libraries and institutions of higher education may not be able to afford the additional fees to use the “fast lanes.”
  • Clearly stating that the FCC’s net neutrality rules apply to public broadband providers and not to private networks, such as those provided by many colleges and universities (which provide private end user networks that are not available to the general public), or end users.
  • Applying the rules in a technology-neutral manner applicable equally to fixed and mobile services. Internet users are increasingly dependent on mobile devices, and often switch between fixed and mobile services.
  • Clarifying disclosure rules to ensure that information regarding data caps and bandwidth speeds are displayed prominently and clearly to consumers and edge providers.
  • Establishing a firm “no blocking” rule to bar providers from interfering with the consumer’s choice of content, application or services. The comments express concerns with the FCC’s proposal to include a definition of a “minimum level of access” or “minimum level of service,” and instead recommends that a no-blocking rule prohibit a provider from blocking access to any lawful website, application or service chosen by the end user, subject to reasonable network management. This rule is governed by the choice made by the end user and therefore would not implicate concerns regarding broadband providers being regulated as common carriers.
  • Authorizing the proposed enforcement ombudsperson “watchdog” to advocate for the interests of libraries, colleges and universities, in addition to consumers, start-ups and small businesses.

Legal Basis for the FCC’s Actions

The comments clearly note that if the FCC reclassifies broadband Internet service as a Title II “common carrier” service, it would provide valuable certainty in the market place and ensure that the goal of prohibiting discrimination. However, if the FCC chooses not to reclassify and use its Title II authority, it may act under its Section 706 authority.

The comments recommend, however, that should the FCC exercise its Section 706 authority rather than choosing to reclassify broadband Internet services, the agency should use an “Internet reasonable” standard rather than a “commercially reasonable” standard because “a ‘commercially reasonable’ approach could be interpreted to allow any broadband and edge provider to reach a contract to provide “paid prioritization”. If the two companies reach an agreement that they mutually believe to be in their commercial interests, it might be found “commercially reasonable” even if it has the effect of degrading the Internet service used by other parties (such as higher education institutions and libraries) sharing the same network.”

The comments note that an “Internet reasonable” standard would recognize the Internet’s unique character and propose four rebuttable presumptions that the FCC could use to evaluate the reasonableness of an Internet provider’s actions. The following four activities should be considered presumptively unreasonable: 1) requiring approval to carry lawful content, applications or services; 2) allowing paid prioritization; 3) undermining the open architecture of the Internet; and 4) degrading the level of service provided and discouraging investment in greater bandwidth to a non-prioritized party.

Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Issues Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Open Internet/Net Neutrality

At an Open Meeting held on May 15, 2014, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) considered the issue of “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet,” or net neutrality. It voted on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM), which proposes new rules in accordance with the decision of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that overturned the FCC’s 2010 Open Internet Rules regarding anti-discrimination and anti-blocking.

As a result of the decision, service providers could allow priority delivery for those willing to pay to promote their content, advancing commercial interests over research library and higher education interests. ARL, together with the American Libraries Association and EDUCAUSE, filed a letter with the FCC on February 13, 2014 advocating for an open Internet and expressing disappointment and concerns with the D.C. Circuit ruling.

An official from the FCC noted that there are currently no legally enforceable rules governing the Internet and the agency seeks to restore rules to ensure that the Internet remains an open platform for communication and growth. Six key elements to the NPR were mentioned:

  1. Maintains the definition and scope of the 2010 rules. The FCC does, however, seek comment regarding whether that scope is still appropriate or whether it should be expanded, for example, to include mobile networks.
  2. Seeks to enhance the transparency rule upheld by the D.C. Circuit.
  3. Intends to institute a no-blocking rule, with clarification on the minimum level of access to broadband subscribers.
  4. For conduct not prohibited by the no-blocking rule, would create a legal rule on commercially reasonable practices. The NPRM seeks comment on whether paid prioritization should be banned outright.
  5. Seeks to implement a multifaceted dispute resolution system, including an ombudsman to act on behalf of consumers and start-ups.
  6. Asks what legal authority provides the most effective path to an open Internet. While the NPRM relies on Section 706 as the source of authority, it seeks comment on whether Section 706 or Title II (or Title III) is most effective.

The sixth point addresses one of the most controversial issues in the wake of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling. Title II reclassification may be the most effective way to ensure that anti-blocking and anti-discrimination rules are permitted. The D.C. Circuit suggested that such rules, particularly with respect to anti-discrimination, looked like “common carrier” rules that are only permitted under Title II. Commissioner Wheeler previously stated his preference to continue under Section 706 authority, while making clear that all options remained on the table.

After the general overview of the NPRM, each commissioner made a statement.

Commissioner Clyburn

Commissioner Clyburn stated her belief that all content should be treated equally and that small startups should have equal footing as large entities. She said that without the open Internet, providers would be free to block or discriminate, noting that as a result of the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, no enforceable rules remain.

Clyburn mentioned specific calls and letters that she received from the public regarding the issue of net neutrality, including concerns from educators. She noted that many comments expressed concerns that the lack of enforceable rules to ensure an open Internet would lead to a stifling of free speech.

Clyburn noted that in Europe, which has not had the same protections, content has been degraded and apps have been blocked. She noted that even in the U.S., apps are blocked by wireless providers.

Finally, Clyburn stated that she had significant concerns about Chairman Wheeler’s initial proposal, but that proposal changed significantly over the past several weeks and included some of the changes that she requested.

Commissioner Rosenworcel

Commissioner Rosenworcel stated that she supported an open Internet, but that she would have handled the process differently. She expressed her opinion that the current process moved too quickly and the FCC should have taken more time to better understand the Internet and seek public input.

Rosenworcel praised the Internet economy in the U.S., calling it the “envy of the world.” She also said that the Internet was the most dynamic platform for free speech ever created and that it promotes our essential values.

Rosenworcel called for the FCC to ensure that going forward, new rules honor transparency, do not allow blocking, and do not permit unreasonable discrimination. She specifically advocated against a two-tiered system, saying that dividing the Internet into fast lanes and slow lanes was unacceptable.

She also spoke positively of the Chairman’s changes to the proposal, including seeking comments to expand the scope of the rules and keeping all options on the table, including Title II reclassification.

Commissioner Pai

Commissioner Pai argued that the FCC was not the appropriate venue for creating rules to govern the Internet, stating that we should be wary of five unelected officials deciding the fate of the Internet. Instead, Pai recommended that the FCC should seek guidance from Congress on this issue. He stated that this issue should be decided by elected representatives who are held accountable by the public, expressing his disappointment that the FCC did not turn the issue over to Congress.

Pai noted that there is bipartisan consensus in favor of a free and open Internet and he is committed to protecting the “four Internet freedoms” of freedom to: access to lawful content, use applications, attach personal devices to their connections, and obtain service plan information.

He argued against Title II reclassification, stating that he agreed with President Clinton that it was inappropriate and would not allow growth of the Internet. Pai also stated that the Internet must be free from government control, asking if we want “smart networks or dumb pipes.”

Pai agreed with Commissioner Rosenworcel that the process was rushed and advocated for a better process moving forward. He said that any rules should be based on sound economics and engineering. Pai suggested that the FCC should ask ten distinguished economists, with each commissioner selecting two, to conduct studies regarding the Internet and growth, and that these studies should then be peer-reviewed and subject to a series of hearings. He also suggested that the FCC should also engage with computer scientists and technologists whose studies should similarly be subjected to peer-review and hearings.

Commissioner O’Rielly

Commissioner O’Rielly stated that the NPRM was based on a “faulty foundation” and “make-believe statutory authority,” arguing heavily against the reliance on Section 706. He suggested that, despite the D.C. Circuit’s ruling, Congress never intended Section 706 to be an affirmative grant of authority and that the language actually supports deregulation.

O’Rielly called the proposal “absurd” and stated that reclassification under Title II would bring back the monopoly era telephone rules to impose “defective” net neutrality rules. He said that Title II represented arcane provisions and an inappropriate framework. He also said that he worried about the credibility of an agency that appeared to be open to such obsolete rules.

O’Rielly questioned the evidence of any specific market failure that needed to be addressed. He said that some have pointed to bad conduct outside of the U.S., but have not shown how it has harmed actions in the U.S.

He also asserted that prioritization is important and even the strongest supporters of net neutrality concede that we must prioritize voice over e-mail and have reasonable network management.

O’Rielly argued that the proposal was not narrowly tailored, would stifle innovation and provide no help to consumers.

Chairman Wheeler

Chairman Wheeler concluded with a statement of his own, asserting from the outset that the FCC supports an open Internet. He said that there is only one Internet, and that it is not a fast Internet or a slow one, but rather, a single Internet.

Wheeler pointed to the D.C. Circuit’s opinion, which observed that there was “little dispute” that broadband providers can distinguish and discriminate. He pointed to examples of abuses from individual cases, including mobile services denying apps.

Wheeler stated that the NPRM starts an important process. He said that it begins with the simple and obvious premise that protecting an open Internet is important for consumers and economic growth. He emphasized that what we are dealing with today is a proposal and not a final rule.

Addressing criticisms of the proposal, he stated that nothing in the proposal would authorize paid prioritization and expressed his displeasure over the idea of having fast lanes which would break the Internet down into haves and have-nots. He noted that the NPRM asks whether and how to prevent paid prioritization.

Wheeler emphasized that the Internet needs to maintain a level playing field to allow for new ideas, small companies and startups to flourish. He said that the prospect of a gatekeeper on the Internet, which chooses winners and losers is unacceptable.

Wheeler stated that it would be commercially unreasonable for a broadband provider to not provide for the contracted pathway. Giving specific examples, he noted that it would not be commercially reasonable if a slower speed than the one the consumer purchased is provided, if a provider blocks content, or if the provider requires the consumer to pay for bandwidth that has already paid for. He said that consumers must have full connectivity.

Wheeler also highlighted two specific aspects of the NPRM, which include an enhanced transparency rule and the creation of an ombudsperson for those that cannot afford a lawyer.

Wheeler explained that he intended to use Section 706 authority because this authority was upheld by the D.C. Circuit and he believed that it provided a quicker roadmap to get rules in place. He noted, however, that it is just one of two primary avenues to reach the goal of preserving an open Internet and that the FCC was also seeking input on Title II reclassification. He concluded that he was looking forward to receiving public feedback and the issue is not about whether the Internet must be open, but rather, about how and when we will have these rules.


The NPRM passed by a vote of 3-2. Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn voted in favor of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Commissioner Rosenworcel concurred. Commissioners Pai and O’Rielly dissented.

Comments from the public are due on July 15, 2014.

The FCC press release on this NPRM is available here.

FCC Chairman Wheeler Issues Net Neutrality Statement, Calls for Public Comment

On February 19, 2014, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler issued a statement on the FCC’s Open Internet Rules. This statement, a response to the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit’s ruling in Verizon v. FCC overturning the agency’s anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules, reaffirmed the FCC’s commitment to preserving a free and open internet. ARL’s statement regarding Verizon v. FCC can be found here.

Chairman Wheeler’ noted that while the D.C. Circuit overturned the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules, it affirmed the FCC’s broad authority to regulate under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. Chairman Wheeler went on to say that the FCC would not appeal the D.C. Circuit’s judgment but would instead work to propose new rules under its Section 706 authority. He stated that the FCC “will carefully consider how, consistent with the court opinion” the agency can ensure that blocking and discrimination do not take place on the Internet.

Although it does not appear that the FCC will take steps to reclassify broadband providers as a telecommunication service from its current classification as information service at this time, it has not ruled out this possibility. Chairman Wheeler’s statement explicitly noted that “as long as Title II—with the ability to reclassify Internet access service as a telecommunications service—remains a part of the Communications Act, the Commission has the ability to utilize it if warranted” and such “authority remains open.”

Furthermore, Chairman Wheeler noted that the FCC would be soliciting public comment and opened a new docket entitled “Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet.” While no deadline has been set for comments, the docket states that “comments filed within the next thirty days will be especially helpful.”