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Net Neutrality Is Almost Here as New Rules Go Into Effect

The FCC's net neutrality rules go into effect this Friday, June 12th. The FCC's net neutrality rules prohibit three main practices: blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization. The goal is to provide an "open Internet" where all content is treated equally by internet service providers.

Telecom companies are scrambling to get their ducks in a row and settle disputes that could end up before the FCC. But, as the rules get ready to go into effect, some roadblocks remain.

What the Rules Require

The FCC's rules take on the three major anti-neutrality practices, blocking, throttling, and prioritization. Blocking refers to the outright blocking of content, as would occur if an ISP decided to cut off access to Netflix or other Internet content. Throttling involves the slowing of transmissions, often by data-intense users. Throttling is common, for example, among cell phone data plans, which slow down data service after a user has used a certain amount of data.

Finally, and perhaps most controversially, there's paid prioritization, the creation of so-called "Internet fast lanes." This is the opposite of blocking or throttling. Under paid prioritization, Internet content providers could pay a premium to telecom companies in order to have their content delivered more quickly, making it more likely for users to return to their websites. This is the opposite of Netflix being blocked -- it's Netflix buying better service than your local mom-'n-pop website. Under the FCC's net neutrality rules, paid prioritization is illegal.

Get Ready for Interconnection Disputes

One net neutrality issue that went unresolved by the FCC's new rules is connections between content and broadband providers. These interconnection issues arise when network operators and ISPs have disputes about how to resolve Internet traffic problems. For example, Cogent, a transit provider, delivers traffic to AT&T. The dispute centers on who is responsible for upgrading the system in order to make sure that it can handle total traffic efficiently. Cogent believes AT&T should increase its network's capacity and should bear the cost of those improvements.

The FCC hasn't established rules about such disputes, but has put itself forward as an arbiter. Companies like Cogent can file complaints against ISPs if they are harming consumers by making unreasonable demands or refusing to upgrade their infrastructure. Just that threat alone was enough that AT&T has settled its dispute with Cogent independently.

Not Yet a Sure Thing

Of course, the future of net neutrality is still uncertain. In March, a small telecom and a large telecom trade organization filed suit challenging the FCC's new rules. They've yet to get an injunction against the rules' implementation, but if their suits are successful they could send the FCC back to the drawing board.

Litigation isn't the only threat either. House Republicans are making a push to stop the rules from going into effect. GOP lawmakers have inserted an appropriations rider into an important government funding bill that, if it gets through committee, will prevent the FCC from enforcing the rules before a final disposition of the suits.

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