FCC's Net Neutrality Powers Remain Questionable

Dennis Faas's picture

It remains unclear whether the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will be able to bring its proposed net neutrality rules into force. Another politician has launched a bid to block the FCC from further regulating the net, while an Internet carrier claims the commission doesn't have the legal power to bring the rules into force.

Last week, the FCC voted unanimously to adopt plans for new rules enforcing the existing principle of net neutrality. The overall idea is that Internet carriers should treat all traffic equally. In practice that could mean cable firms and ISPs would not be allowed to monitor users for bandwidth hogging via filesharing. It could also stop cellphone carriers from blocking smartphone applications running on their networks.

Senator John McCain has already proposed a law to block the FCC from issuing such measures. Now House of Representatives member Marsha Blackburn has published a bill, with the somewhat bizarre title of "Real Stimulus Act of 2009", which simply says "The Federal Communications Commission shall not propose, promulgate, or issue any regulations regarding the Internet or IP-enabled services." (Source: loc.gov)

Throttling Offender Not Done Yet

Meanwhile Comcast has argued that the FCC doesn't have the power to enforce regulations on Internet issues in the first place. It's taking court action against the FCC's decision to punish it last year over "throttling", or deliberately slowing access to subscribers using peer-to-peer file-sharing technology.

The case has already produced legal debates over whether the FCC ever had the right to issue punishment, given that its net neutrality principles had not yet been set down as formal regulations -- a point questioned by one commission member who disagreed with the verdict.

Comcast: Keep Web "Unfettered by Federal or State regulation"

Now, Comcast has argued in an appeal filing that that "while the [FCC] and its supporters spill much ink arguing that a variety of policy reasons justified enforcement action against Comcast, the agency may only enforce law."

Comcast points out that although the relevant law, last updated in 1996, does give the FCC the duty to promote the development of Internet, it doesn't mention net neutrality; meanwhile it specifically says the Internet should be "unfettered by Federal or State regulation." (Source: arstechnica.com)

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