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It’s a Big Deal: FCC Chairman outlines strong network neutrality protections

Today Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler will circulate his network neutrality proposal to fellow Commissioners in preparation for a February 26 vote. While we can’t read the detailed draft as it is not yet public, the Chairman did outline his plans in a Wired op-ed and fact sheet released yesterday. To paraphrase our Vice President, this is a Big Deal.

FCC Building in Washington, D.C.
FCC Building in Washington, D.C.

“I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open Internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services,” Chairman Wheeler writes.

Today, the American Library Assicuation (ALA) President Courtney Young responded: “I am very pleased that Chairman Wheeler’s outlined proposal matches the network neutrality principles ALA and nearly a dozen library and higher education groups called for last July. America’s libraries collect, create and disseminate essential information to the public over the Internet, and enable our users to create and distribute their own digital content and applications. Network neutrality is essential to meeting our mission in serving America’s communities and preserving the Internet as a platform for free speech, innovation, research and learning for all.”

In a nutshell, the proposal:

  • Asserts FCC authority under both Title II of the Communications Act and Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 to provide the strongest possible legal foundation for network neutrality rules;
  • Applies network neutrality protections to both fixed and mobile broadband (which the ALA, Association of Research Libraries and EDUCAUSE advocated for—unsuccessfully—in the 2010 Open Internet Order and in our most recent filings);
  • Prohibits blocking or degrading access to legal content, applications, services and non-harmful devices; as well as banning paid prioritization, or favoring some content over other traffic;
  • Allows for reasonable network management while enhancing transparency rules regarding how Internet service providers (ISPs) are doing this;
  • Creates a general Open Internet standard for future ISP conduct;
  • Identifies major provisions of Title II that will apply and others that will be subject to forbearance (i.e., not enforced).

Among the provisions that will be enforced are sections that assert no “unjust and unreasonable practices” (Sections 201 and 202), protect consumer privacy (Section 222), protect people with disabilities (Sections 225 and 226) and parts of Section 254, which includes the E-rate program and other Universal Service Fund (USF) programs. After the recent successful completion of E-rate program modernization to better enable affordable access to high-capacity broadband through libraries and schools, ALA has a particular interest in safeguarding FCC authority related to the Universal Service Fund. We agree the new Order should not automatically apply any new USF fees, but we would like to better understand how a partial application of Section 254 will work in practice. We’re reaching out to the FCC on this question now.

As always, more information on libraries and network neutrality is available on the ALA website and we’ll keep blogging here on the Dispatch.

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Larra Clark

Larra Clark is the deputy director of both the Public Library Association and Washington Office’s public policy team. Larra received her bachelor's degree in interdisciplinary studies from the University of Arizona and has a M.S. in Library and Information Science from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

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