FCC posts open Internet rules, prepares for budget backlash

Net neutrality rules have limited implications for agencies, but the FCC's own funding could suffer as a result.

The Federal Communications Commission posted its 400-page report and new order on Internet neutrality, detailing the rules the agency adopted in a 3-2 vote in late February.

The rules are fairly succinct, but their historical framework and legal basis take some time to explain. Essentially, they boil down to three basic no-nos for Internet service providers: no blocking of access to lawful content or applications; no throttling of connection speeds on the basis of devices or content; and no paid prioritization, or "fast lanes," for particular content or services.

The order reclassifies broadband Internet access from an information service to a telecommunications service under Title II of the Communications Act, a reversal of a 13-year-old FCC decision. That is because the way consumers view ISPs has changed, according to a senior FCC official.

Primarily, consumers look to ISPs as a transmission platform for access to online content, services and applications. In the early days of the consumer Internet, people bought into a bundle of access and applications like the type offered by AOL, the official said during a conference call with reporters.

FCC's latest action is expected to draw court challenges. Agency officials speaking on background stressed that the FCC rules were written to survive court challenges, but in his dissent, Republican FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai predicted that the action would be overturned in court.

But there is also the question of FCC's funding in Congress. The agency is seeking an $84 million funding increase, with 25 percent of that set to go to IT upgrades, including a move to the cloud, and a rewrite of legacy applications.

Next week, House and Senate committees are hosting all five FCC commissioners at separate oversight hearings. Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee's Communications and Technology Subcommittee, previewed what might be in store for the agency during the upcoming round of appropriations.

"The FCC is a child of Congress, and it is high time that we return to the good government practice of having the authorizing committee take a hard look at the agency before Congress hands over another appropriation," Walden said in a March 9 speech at the American Enterprise Institute.

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