Net Neutrality and Consumer Privacy

A look at net neutrality and Title II of the Communications Act may be getting a bit deep into the weeds, but the ultimate outcome of the debate will have a profound effect on the way we communicate, do business, and get our entertainment.

1934, the FCC is Born  

When President Roosevelt and Congress agreed that communications technology was determined to be an interstate good, and that oversight of the industry was in order, certain elements of 2 prior acts regarding radio transmission and telephone fcc-net neutralitywere combined, bringing about the Communications Act of 1934.

The 1934 act was virtually untouched until a 1996 overhaul where Congress amended and or repealed sections of the original with the Telecommunications Act of 1996. With the encouragement of President Obama, the FCC rule to ensure equal access to the Internet was adopted in 2015.

In addition to the three major elements that we discussed last week, the net neutrality rule also allows the FCC to enact applicable portions of Title II of the 1996 act, that’s what we’ll look at today.“Protecting and Promoting the Open Internet.”

Title II Tailored for Net neutrality in the 21st Century

Although the FCC deemed over 700 codes of Title II to be inapplicable, it did decide to apply 30 provisions to the new Rule referring to it as “Title II tailored for the 21st Century.”  According to the Rule the applicable codes are a “light touch” addressing only issues that “directly further the public interest in an open Internet and more, better, and open broadband.”

Here is a brief look at the ‘applicable’ sections and what they mean:

  • Sections 201 and 202 make it the duty of providers to provide service upon reasonable request and not discriminate against any party requesting service.  It also gives the FCC the authority to impose fines should it deem that a provider has discriminated against a consumer.
  • Section 208, 206, 207, 209, 216, and 217 allow the FCC to investigate complaints and impose fines if it finds complaints valid under the terms of the Rule.
  • Section 222 protects the privacy of consumers and communications carriers and equipment manufacturers who conduct business with other communication carriers.  A big piece of this is Confidentiality of Customer Proprietary Network Information (CPNI).
  • Section 224 ensures fair access to poles and conduits to increase installation of new broadband networks, giving the FCC authority to regulate rates, terms, and conditions for pole attachments in states that do not regulate these elements.  States that do regulate them must demonstrate to the FCC that local regulations equitable consider the rights of the consumers.
  •  Sections 225 and 255 ensure that people with disabilities have equal and equitable access to open Internet and that any related manufactured products comply with American with Disabilities Act (ADA) standards.
  • Section 254 addresses the Universal Service Fund (USF) for “support for broadband service in the future”.  The FCC Rule does however, exclude items from the section that relate to adding a USF surcharge to Internet Access Service, rural rate regulation, and a provider’s ability to use rates on non-competitive services to subsidize other services that are subject to competition.

Are you thoroughly dazed or confused yet?

The bottom line here is that the Communications and subsequent Telecommunications Act has, to varying degrees, governed legacy and wireless phone companies, and commercial mobile radio services for decades.  If indeed, access to the internet is as important today as telephone and other utilities, perhaps it is the right time to ensure fair and equitable access.

But wait, there’s more!

On April 1st of 2016, the FCC issued a 147 page Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) seeking industry comment on how to integrate to 30 or so provisions of Title II into the Protecting and Promoting the Internet rule.  More to come as details unfold.