Federal Internet Law & Policy
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Net Neutrality :: Behavior Rules OI 2015
Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

See OI 2010 Blocking and Discrimination Rules overturned by court.


111. We continue to find, for the same reasons the Commission found in the 2010 Open Internet Order and reiterated in the 2014 Open Internet NPRM, that “the freedom to send and receive lawful content and to use and provide applications and services without fear of blocking is essential to the Internet’s openness.” Because of broadband providers’ incentives to block competitors’ content, the need to protect a consumer’s right to access lawful content, applications, services, and to use non-harmful devices is as important today as it was when the Commission adopted the first no-blocking rule in 2010.

"A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not block lawful content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, subject to reasonable network management."

113. Similar to the 2010 no-blocking rule, the phrase “content, applications, and services” again refers to all traffic transmitted to or from end users of a broadband Internet access service, including traffic that may not fit clearly into any of these categories. Further, the no-blocking rule adopted today again applies to transmissions of lawful content and does not prevent or restrict a broadband provider from refusing to transmit unlawful material, such as child pornography or copyright-infringing materials. Today’s no-blocking rule also entitles end users to connect, access, and use any lawful device of their choice, provided that the device does not harm the network. The no-blocking rule prohibits network practices that block a specific application or service, or any particular class of applications or services, unless it is found to be reasonable network management. Finally, as with the 2010 no-blocking rule, today’s no-blocking rule prohibits broadband providers from charging edge providers a fee to avoid having the edge providers’ content, service, or application blocked from reaching the broadband provider’s end-user customer. 


119. In the 2014 Open Internet NPRM, the Commission proposed that degradation of lawful content or services below a specified level of service would violate a no-blocking rule. While certain broadband Internet access provider conduct may result in degradation of an end user’s Internet experience that is tantamount to blocking, we believe that this conduct requires delineation in an explicit rule rather than through commentary as part of the no-blocking rule. Thus, we adopt a separate no-throttling rule applicable to both fixed and mobile providers of broadband Internet access service: 

"A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic on the basis of Internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management.." para 16.

120. With the no-throttling rule, we ban conduct that is not outright blocking, but inhibits the delivery of particular content, applications, or services, or particular classes of content, applications, or services. Likewise, we prohibit conduct that impairs or degrades lawful traffic to a non-harmful device or class of devices. We interpret this prohibition to include, for example, any conduct by a broadband Internet access service provider that impairs, degrades, slows down, or renders effectively unusable particular content, services, applications, or devices, that is not reasonable network management. For purposes of this rule, the meaning of “content, applications, and services” has the same as the meaning given to this phrase in the no-blocking rule. Like the no-blocking rule, broadband providers may not impose a fee on edge providers to avoid having the edge providers’ content, service, or application throttled. Further, transfers of unlawful content or unlawful transfers of content are not protected by the no-throttling rule. We will consider potential violations of the no-throttling rule under the enforcement provisions outlined below.  

121. We find that a prohibition on throttling is as necessary as a rule prohibiting blocking. Without an equally strong no-throttling rule, parties note that the no-blocking rule will not be as effective because broadband providers might otherwise engage in conduct that harms the open Internet but falls short of outright blocking. For example, the record notes the existence of numerous practices that broadband providers can engage in to degrade an end user’s experience.

122. Because our no-throttling rule addresses instances in which a broadband provider targets particular content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices, it does not address a practice of slowing down an end user’s connection to the Internet based on a choice made by the end user. For instance, a broadband provider may offer a data plan in which a subscriber receives a set amount of data at one speed tier and any remaining data at a lower tier. If the Commission were concerned about the particulars of a data plan, it could review it under the no-unreasonable interference/disadvantage standard. In contrast, if a broadband provider degraded the delivery of a particular application (e.g., a disfavored VoIP service) or class of application (e.g., all VoIP applications), it would violate the bright-line no-throttling rule. We note that user-selected data plans with reduced speeds must comply with our transparency rule, such that the limitations of the plan are clearly and accurately communicated to the subscriber.

123. The no-throttling rule also addresses conduct that impairs or degrades content, applications, or services that might compete with a broadband provider’s affiliated content. For example, if a broadband provider and an unaffiliated entity both offered over-the-top applications, the no-throttling rule would prohibit broadband providers from constraining bandwidth for the competing over-the-top offering to prevent it from reaching the broadband provider’s end user in the same manner as the affiliated application.

124. As in the 2010 Open Internet Order, we continue to recognize that in order to optimize the end-user experience, broadband providers must be permitted to engage in reasonable network management practices. We emphasize, however, that to be eligible for consideration under the reasonable network management exception, a network management practice that would otherwise violate the no-throttling rule must be used reasonably and primarily for network management purposes, and not for business purposes

Paid Prioritization

125. In the 2014 Open Internet NPRM, the Commission sought comment on suggestions to impose a flat ban on paid prioritization services, including whether all paid prioritization practices, or some of them, could be treated as per se violations of the commercially-reasonable standard or any other standard based on any source of legal authority. For reasons explained below, we conclude that paid prioritization network practices harm consumers, competition, and innovation, as well as create disincentives to promote broadband deployment and, as such, adopt a bright-line rule against such practices. Accordingly, today we ban arrangements in which the broadband service provider accepts consideration (monetary or otherwise) from a third party to manage the network in a manner that benefits particular content, applications, services, or devices. We also ban arrangements where a provider manages its network in a manner that favors the content, applications, services or devices of an affiliated entity. Any broadband provider that engages in such practices will be subject to enforcement action, including forfeitures and other penalties. We adopt the following rule banning paid prioritization arrangements:  

"A person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not engage in paid prioritization.

“Paid prioritization” refers to the management of a broadband provider’s network to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic, including through use of techniques such as traffic shaping, prioritization, resource reservation, or other forms of preferential traffic management, either (a) in exchange for consideration (monetary or otherwise) from a third party, or (b) to benefit an affiliated entity."

126. The paid prioritization ban we adopt today is based on the record that has developed in this proceeding. The record is rife with commenter concerns regarding preferential treatment arrangements, with many advocating a flat ban on paid prioritization. Commenters assert that permitting paid prioritization will result in the bifurcating of the Internet into a “fast” lane for those willing and able to pay and a “slow” lane for everyone else. As several commenters observe, allowing for the purchase of priority treatment can lead to degraded performance—in the form of higher latency, increased risk of packet loss, or, in aggregate, lower bandwidth—for traffic that is not covered by such an arrangement. Commenters further argue that paid prioritization will introduce artificial barriers to entry, distort the market, harm competition, harm consumers, discourage innovation, undermine public safety and universal service, and harm free expression. Vimeo, for instance, argues that paid prioritization “would disadvantage user-generated video and independent filmmakers” that lack the resources of major film studios to pay priority rates for dissemination of content. Engine Advocacy meanwhile asserts that “[s]ome unfunded early startups may not be able to afford [to pay for priority treatment] (particularly if the product would be data-intensive) and will not start a company,” resulting in “reduce[d] entrepreneurship.” Commenters assert that if paid prioritization became widespread, it would make reliance on consumers’ ordinary, non-prioritized access to the Internet an increasingly unattractive and competitively nonviable option. The Commission’s conclusion is supported by a well-established body of economic literature, including Commission staff working papers.

127. It is well-established that broadband providers have both the incentive and ability to engage in paid prioritization. In its Verizon opinion, the D.C. Circuit noted that providers “have powerful incentives to accept fees from edge providers, either in return for excluding their competitors or for granting them prioritized access to end users.” Indeed, at oral argument Verizon’s counsel announced that “but for [the 2010 Open Internet Order] rules we would be exploring [such] commercial arrangements.” While we appreciate that several broadband providers have claimed that they do not engage in paid prioritization or that they have no plans to do so, such statements do not have the force of a legal rule that prevents them from doing so in the future. The future openness of the Internet should not turn on the decision of a particular company. We are concerned that if paid prioritization practices were to become widespread, the damage to Internet openness could be difficult to reverse. We agree that “[u]nraveling a web of discriminatory deals after significant investments have been made, business plans have been built, and technologies have been deployed would be a complicated undertaking both logistically and politically.” Further, documenting the harms could prove challenging, as it is impossible to identify small businesses and new applications that are stifled before they become commercially viable. Prioritizing some traffic over others based on payment or other consideration from an edge provider could fundamentally alter the Internet as a whole by creating artificial motivations and constraints on its use, damaging the web of relationships and interactions that define the value of the Internet for both end users and edge providers, and posing a risk of harm to consumers, competition, and innovation. Thus, because of the very real concerns about the chilling effects that preferential treatment arrangements could have on the virtuous cycle of innovation, consumer demand, and investment, we adopt a bright-line rule banning paid prioritization arrangements.

128. In arguing against such a ban, ADTRAN asserts that it would “cement the advantages enjoyed by the largest edge providers that presently obtain the functional equivalent of priority access by constructing their own extensive networks that interconnect directly with the ISPs.” We reject this argument. CDT correctly observes that “[e]stablished entities with substantial resources will always have a variety of advantages” over less established ones, notwithstanding any rules we adopt. We do not seek to disrupt the legitimate benefits that may accrue to edge providers that have invested in enhancing the delivery of their services to end users. On the contrary, such investments may contribute to the virtuous cycle by stimulating further competition and innovation among edge providers, to the ultimate benefit of consumers. We also clarify that the ban on paid prioritization does not restrict the ability of a broadband provider and CDN to interconnect.

129. We find that a flat ban on paid prioritization has advantages over alternative approaches identified in the record. Prohibiting this practice outright will help to foster broadband network investment by setting clear boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable behavior. It will also protect consumers against a harmful practice that may be difficult to understand, even if disclosed. In addition, this approach relieves small edge providers, innovators, and consumers of the burden of detecting and challenging instances of harmful paid prioritization. Given the potential harms to the virtuous cycle, we believe it is more appropriate to impose an ex ante ban on such practices, while entertaining waiver requests under exceptional circumstances.

130. Under our longstanding waiver rule, the Commission may waive any rule “in whole or in part, for good cause shown.” General waiver of the Commission’s rules is appropriate only if special circumstances warrant a deviation from the general rule, and such a deviation will serve the public interest. In some cases, however, the Commission adopts specific rules concerning the factors that will be used to examine a waiver or exemption request. We believe that such guidance is appropriate here to make clear the very limited circumstances in which the Commission would be willing to allow paid prioritization. Accordingly, we adopt a rule concerning waiver of the paid prioritization ban that establishes a balancing test, as follows:

The Commission may waive the ban on paid prioritization only if the petitioner demonstrates that the practice would provide some significant public interest benefit and would not harm the open nature of the Internet.

131. In support of any waiver request, the applicant therefore must make two related showings. First, the applicant must demonstrate that the practice will have some significant public interest benefit, such as providing evidence that the practice furthers competition, innovation, consumer demand, or investment. Second, the applicant must demonstrate that the practice does not harm the nature of the open Internet, including, but not limited to, providing evidence that the practice:

132. An applicant seeking waiver relief under this rule faces a high bar. We anticipate granting such relief only in exceptional cases.

See also

"Recently, some network operators have suggested that they would like to use these new technologies to prioritize certain data traffic or to provide other types of quality-of-service assurances to content and applications providers and/or end users in exchange for a premium fee. In contrast to the practice of transmitting data on a firstin- first-out and best-efforts basis, network operators could use a router algorithm to favor the transmission of certain packets based on characteristics such as their source, destination, application type, or related network attachment. One or more of these strategies could be employed to manage network traffic generally. Or, they might be used by a network operator to actively degrade certain non-favored traffic.

"Packets going to or from certain favored addresses could be given priority transmission. Likewise, network operators could give priority to packets for latencysensitive applications such as VoIP or network video games. In the alternative, routers could be programmed to reroute, delay, or drop certain packets. For example, a network operator could block packets considered to be a security threat. It could drop or otherwise delay packets associated with unaffiliated or otherwise disfavored users, content, or applications. A network could apply such treatment only in certain circumstances, such as during periods of congestion, after a quota of packets has been met, or, until certain usage fees are paid. Some observers, however, question whether implementing wide-scale prioritization or similar schemes across multiple networks having differing technical characteristics is, in fact, even technically possible.

"Network operators also could provide separate physical or logical channels for different classes of traffic. Another method for favoring certain Internet traffic is to reserve capacity on last-mile bandwidth for certain packet streams to provide a minimum level of quality. Similarly, a network operator could limit the amount of bandwidth available to an end user, thereby degrading or effectively blocking altogether the use of bandwidth-intensive content or applications. A network operator also could treat data packets differently by providing preferential access to services, such as local caching.

"Data also can be treated differently through the use of pricing structures, such as service tiers, to provide a certain quality-of-service level in exchange for payment.125 In a fee-for-priority system, content and applications providers and/or end users paying higher fees would receive quicker, more reliable data transmissions. Sometimes, such an arrangement is referred to as a "fast lane." Other data might simply be provided on a best-efforts basis. Similarly, a network operator might assess fees to end users based on their behavior patterns, a practice sometimes referred to as "content billing" or "content charging."



133. In the 2014 Open Internet NPRM, the Commission tentatively concluded that it should adopt a rule requiring broadband providers to use “commercially reasonable” practices in the provision of broadband Internet access service, and sought comment on this approach. The Commission also sought comment on whether there were alternative legal standards that the Commission should consider, or whether it should adopt a rule that prohibits unreasonable discrimination and, if so, what legal authority and theories it should rely upon to do so. In addition, the Commission sought comment on how it can ensure that the rule it adopts sufficiently protects against harms to the open Internet, including broadband providers’ incentives to disadvantage edge providers or classes of edge providers in ways that would harm Internet openness.

134. The Commission sought comment on what factors it should adopt to ensure commercially reasonable practices that will protect and promote Internet openness, and tentatively concluded that a review of the totality of the circumstances should be preserved to ensure that rules can be applied evenly and fairly in response to changing circumstances. The Commission also recognized that there have been significant changes in the mobile marketplace since 2010, and sought comment on whether and, if so, how these changes should affect the Commission’s treatment of mobile services under the rules.

135. Preventing Unreasonable Interference or Unreasonable Disadvantage that Harms Consumers and Edge Providers. The three bright-line rules that we adopt today prohibit specific conduct that harms the open Internet. The open nature of the Internet has allowed new products and services to flourish and has broken down geographic barriers to communication, allowing information to flow freely. We believe the rules we adopt today will alleviate many of the concerns identified in the record regarding broadband provider practices that could upset these positive outcomes. However, while these three bright-line rules comprise a critical cornerstone in protecting and promoting the open Internet, we believe that there may exist other current or future practices that cause the type of harms our rules are intended to address. For that reason, we adopt a rule setting forth a no-unreasonable interference/disadvantage standard, under which the Commission can prohibit, on a case-by-case basis, practices that unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage the ability of consumers to reach the Internet content, services, and applications of their choosing or of edge providers to access consumers using the Internet.

136. It is critical that access to a robust, open Internet remains a core feature of the communications landscape, but also that there remains leeway for experimentation with innovative offerings. Based on our findings that broadband providers have the incentive and ability to discriminate in their handling of network traffic in ways that can harm the virtuous cycle of innovation, increased end-user demand for broadband access, and increased investment in broadband network infrastructure and technologies, we conclude that a no-unreasonable interference/disadvantage standard to protect the open nature of the Internet is necessary. We adopt this standard to prohibit practices in the broadband Internet access provider’s network that harm Internet openness, similar to the approach proposed by the Higher Education coalition and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Specifically, we require that

Any person engaged in the provision of broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably interfere with or unreasonably disadvantage (i) end users’ ability to select, access, and use broadband Internet access service or the lawful Internet content, applications, services, or devices of their choice, or (ii) edge providers’ ability to make lawful content, applications, services, or devices available to end users.  Reasonable network management shall not be considered a violation of this rule.

137. This “no-unreasonable interference/disadvantage” standard will be applied to carefully balance the benefits of innovation against harm to end users and edge providers. It also protects free expression, thus fulfilling the congressional policy that the Internet “offer[s] a forum for true diversity of political discourse, unique opportunities for cultural development, and myriad avenues for intellectual activity.” As the Commission found in 2010, and the Verizon court upheld, “[r]estricting edge providers’ ability to reach end users, and limiting end users’ ability to choose which edge providers to patronize, would reduce the rate of innovation at the edge and, in turn, the likely rate of improvements to network infrastructure. Similarly, restricting the ability of broadband providers to put the network to innovative uses may reduce the rate of improvements to network infrastructure.” Under the standard that we adopt today, the Commission can protect against harm to end users’ or edge providers’ ability to use broadband Internet access service to reach one another. Compared to the no unreasonable discrimination standard adopted by the Commission in 2010, the standard we adopt today is specifically designed to protect against harms to the open nature of the Internet. We note that the standard we adopt today represents our interpretation of sections 201 and 202 in the broadband Internet access context and, independently, our interpretation—upheld by the Verizon court—that rules to protect Internet openness promote broadband deployment via the virtuous cycle under section 706 of the 1996 Act.

Factors to Guide Application of the Rule