Last week the FCC launched a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) proposing to adopt six “open Internet” rules that would bind all broadband access providers, including those providing mobile and satellite broadband services. If adopted, the rules could have pervasive and lasting effects in many industry sectors, including broadband, voice and video service providers, infrastructure, device, chipset and other component vendors, content publishers and distributors, software publishers, and application service providers.
The NPRM abandons the “net neutrality” moniker in favor of a new phrase, “the free and open Internet.” Nonetheless, views on every aspect of the debate remain highly polarized, driven by vast economic stakes in the outcome, disagreements about the factors that have made the Internet a success, philosophical differences about the nature of the Internet and disagreement over the role of the FCC in 21st century communications. The NPRM puts the FCC at center stage in the debate for now, but the federal courts and Congress may take prominent or even decisive roles. Some parties, notably including two of the five sitting FCC commissioners, question the FCC’s legal authority to adopt and enforce the rules it has proposed. If the federal courts agree, the FCC will have to re-tool its approach or look to Congress to expand its jurisdiction.