The revised Net neutrality rules that the FCC approved in December became official on Friday when they entered the Federal Register. They will take effect on November 20.

Net neutrality advocates have long lobbied for laws that prevent Internet providers from blocking competitive content, charging for faster connections to certain sites, and a slew of other tactics that would destroy the “open web.” Meanwhile, broadband and wireless providers have argued that it’s government regulation — not Internet provider discrimination — that threatens the open web.

While the new rules [PDF] do prevent fixed broadband providers (cable, fiber and DSL) from blocking access to sites and applications, they are different for wireless providers and not as clear as advocates on either side would like.

The rules lay out three basic protections:

  1. Fixed and mobile broadband providers must disclose the network management practices, performance characteristics and commercial terms of their broadband services.
  2. No blocking: fixed broadband providers may not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices; mobile broadband providers may not block lawful websites, or block applications that compete with their voice or video telephony services.
  3. No unreasonable discrimination: fixed broadband providers may not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic.

When a draft of the rules came out in December, roughly 80 grassroots organizations signed an open letter avowing their disapproval. The letter complained that the Order “leaves wireless users vulnerable to application blocking and discrimination,” uses “unnecessarily broad definitions,” and claims that specialized services “would create a pay-for-play platform that would destroy today’s level playing field.”

Wireless providers, which are in favor of minimal regulation, also complained. Verizon filed an appeal, Sen. Mitch McConnell said that the rules would “harm investment, stifle innovation and lead to job losses,” and the Republican party reportedly started planning its repeal within an hour of the rules’ approval.

The House of Representatives voted to overturn the rules in April, but the resolution is unlikely to pass in the Democrat-controlled senate. President Obama has threatened to veto it even if it does.

Now that the rules are official, however, all parties are free to launch their legal offensives. Get ready for another round of lobbying, damning public statements and lawsuits.


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