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FCC Set To Approve Net Neutrality Rules

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Net neutrality has been talked about in tech circles for years, and now the government is finally going to act. New rules proposed by the FCC appear set to pass tomorrow on a 3-2 vote, with the three commissioners appointed by Democrats all weighing in favor of the proposal. One Commissioner, Democrat Michael Copps, who was considered the swing vote, announced today he will vote for the proposal even though he does not “wholeheartedly” approve of it.

Commissioner Mignon Clyburn is also expected to vote in favor, while two commissioners appointed by Republicans are expected to oppose the proposal.

The proposal has three basic parts, outlined by senior FCC officials today.

»  Transparency. While “reasonable network management” is allowed, it must be disclosed to consumers. That would rule out actions like Comcast’s throttling of BitTorrent traffic, which was done secretly.

»  No blocking of lawful content will be allowed. Pretty straightforward-broadband providers won’t be able to block any websites except those that have been shut down under court order or similar authority. This rule applies to mobile providers a bit differently, because while they also can’t block websites, or any apps relating to video or telephony services, they will be allowed to block some apps. This flexibility is needed because some network providers may need to block apps for technical reasons; for example, an app that works great on a 4G network might underperform or even be harmful on another type of network.

»  No “unreasonable” discrimination. Requires broadband providers handling traffic on their networks to not unreasonably discriminate or “pick winners and losers on behalf of consumers.” (Like Level 3 claims Comcast (NSDQ: CMCSA) wants to do.) This doesn’t apply to mobile.

The FCC officials also said it wasn’t overstepping its authority by creating network neutrality rules, as some Republicans have claimed. The FCC’s authority to regulate the internet was brought sharply into question earlier this year, when its 2008 sanctions against Comcast for throttling BitTorrent traffic were overturned by an appeals court. But all that did was undermine the approach of an earlier commision. The FCC still has authority to promote competition and investment in video, and ensure that voice telephony services are competitive, and thus is able to create rules such as the one likely to be passed tomorrow, officials said.

One of the Republican commissioners who opposes the proposal, Robert McDowell, expressed his opposition in an op-ed published in today’s Wall Street Journal. “Nothing is broken that needs fixing,” wrote McDowell.