A major decision from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), issued last December, implemented a new regulatory approach to the way Internet service is provided, and to regulating the actions of Internet service providers (ISPs). In its language describing the decision, the FCC described the action as restoration of a “light touch regulatory framework” applicable to Internet service.
This action is a reversal of a regulatory approach enacted by the FCC in 2015. The new action restores the classification of Internet service as an “information service,” with primary power to regulate the conduct of Internet service residing in the Federal Trade Commission.
The approach adopted in the 2015 FCC order is commonly referred to as the advancement of net neutrality. This approach classified Internet providers as telecommunications providers, making them subject to FCC regulation, in key areas such as pricing and equitable treatment of ISPs.
The North Dakota Association of Telecommunications Cooperatives (NDATC), which represents locally owned and operated broadband Internet providers across the state, has followed closely this significant development in Internet service regulation. David Crothers, NDATC general manager, indicated the new FCC order will not result in lower quality in the Internet service which NDATC member companies provide.
“Despite the attention-grabbing headlines generated by the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality, those who receive Internet service from North Dakota’s telecom cooperatives and small commercial companies will not see their service diminished in any way,” Crothers said.
He said critics’ assertions that the FCC action would reduce Internet speeds or traffic are unfounded.
“Subscribers will not see our locally owned Internet service providers slow down their Internet service or block their traffic to lawful sites,” he said.
Crothers added that the FCC order of last December is “not ideal.”
“NDATC members believe the FCC should have retained some jurisdiction to step in and settle disputes between small ISPs like we have here in North Dakota and large out-of-state entities like Netflix,” he said.
Crothers said NDATC fully supports commercial negotiations to determine fair compensation for the use of a telecom company’s infrastructure, believing the FCC should remain as an impartial judge to settle disputes between parties to the contract when no agreement can be reached.
Crothers said NDATC will continue to monitor closely the evolution of Internet service regulation.
“It appears the FCC decision is merely the first step in establishing the relationship between ISP’s and their customers,” he said.
He pointed out that 20 state attorneys general have filed suit against the FCC concerning this new order, arguing the rules are “capricious.” In addition, Crothers said legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to modify the commission’s decision.
In monitoring developments at the FCC, resulting litigation and congressional action, Crothers said the goal of NDATC and its member companies is sustaining excellent broadband Internet service for these companies’ customers.
“NDATC and the small North Dakota-owned ISP’s will continue to do all they can to make sure rural residents have fair and affordable access to the Internet,” Crothers said.