Federal Internet Law & Policy
An Educational Project
Net Neutrality :: Blocking & Discrimination OI 2010
Dont be a FOOL; The Law is Not DIY

Open Internet Proceeding: 12/23/10 FCC Acts to Preserve Internet Freedom and Openness. R&O: Word | Acrobat:

"No Blocking" and "No Discrimination" rule were vacated by the DC Circuit in Verizon v. FCC 2014. See 2015 OI Behavioral Rules.

C  No Blocking and No Unreasonable Discrimination

1.  No Blocking

62.  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 and to competition in adjacent markets such as voice communications and video and audio programming. [195] Similarly, the ability to connect and use any lawful devices that do not harm the network helps ensure that end users can enjoy the competition and innovation that result when device manufacturers can depend on networks' openness. [196] Moreover, the no-blocking principle has been broadly accepted since its inclusion in the Commission's Internet Policy Statement . Major broadband providers represent that they currently operate consistent with this principle and are committed to continuing to do so. [197]

See Computer Inquiries :: CPE for history of attachment of foreign devices to the network.

63.  In the Open Internet NPRM, the Commission proposed codifying the original three Internet Policy Statement principles that addressed blocking of content, applications and services, and devices. [198] After consideration of the record, we consolidate the proposed rules into a single rule for fixed broadband providers: [199]

A person engaged in the provision of fixed 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.

64.  The phrase "content, applications, services" refers to all traffic transmitted to or from end users of a broadband Internet access service, including traffic that may not fit cleanly into any of these categories.[200] The rule protects only transmissions of lawful content, and does not prevent or restrict a broadband provider from refusing to transmit unlawful material such as child pornography. [201]

65.  We also note that the rule entitles end users to both connect and use any lawful device of their choice, provided such device does not harm the network.[202] A broadband provider may require that devices conform to widely accepted and publicly-available standards applicable to its services.[203] [Note: Compare to FCC's CPE Rules]

66. We make clear that the no-blocking rule bars broadband providers from impairing or degrading particular content, applications, services, or non-harmful devices so as to render them effectively unusable (subject to reasonable network management).[204] Such a prohibition is consistent with the observation of a number of commenters that degrading traffic can have the same effects as outright blocking,[205] and that such an approach is consistent with the traditional interpretation of the Internet Policy Statement.[206] The Commission has recognized that in some circumstances the distinction between blocking and degrading (such as by delaying) traffic is merely "semantic."[207]

67.  Some concerns have been expressed that broadband providers may seek to charge edge providers simply for delivering traffic to or carrying traffic from the broadband provider's end-user customers.[208] To the extent that a content, application, or service provider could avoid being blocked only by paying a fee, charging such a fee would not be permissible under these rules.[209]

Discrimination (OI 2010)

2  No Unreasonable Discrimination

68.  Based on our findings that fixed broadband providers have incentives and the ability to discriminate in their handling of network traffic in ways that can harm innovation, investment, competition, end users, and free expression,[210] we adopt the following rule:

A person engaged in the provision of fixed broadband Internet access service, insofar as such person is so engaged, shall not unreasonably discriminate in transmitting lawful network traffic over a consumer's broadband Internet access service. reasonable network management shall not constitute unreasonable discrimination. [211]

69. The rule strikes an appropriate balance between restricting harmful conduct and permitting beneficial forms of differential treatment. As the rule specifically provides, and as discussed below, discrimination by a broadband provider that constitutes "reasonable network management" is "reasonable" discrimination.[212] We provide further guidance regarding distinguishing reasonable from unreasonable discrimination:

70. Transparency . Differential treatment of traffic is more likely to be reasonable the more transparent to the end user that treatment is. The Commission has previously found broadband provider practices to violate open Internet principles in part because they were not disclosed to end users.[213] Transparency is particularly important with respect to the discriminatory treatment of traffic as it is often difficult for end users to determine the causes of slow or poor performance of content, applications, services, or devices.[214]

71.  End-User Control . Maximizing end-user control is a policy goal Congress recognized in Section 230(b) of the Communications Act, and end-user choice and control are touchstones in evaluating the reasonableness of discrimination.[215] As one commenter observes, "letting users choose how they want to use the network enables them to use the Internet in a way that creates more value for them (and for society) than if network providers made this choice," and "is an important part of the mechanism that produces innovation under uncertainty."[216] Thus, enabling end users to choose among different broadband offerings based on such factors as assured data rates and reliability, or to select quality-of-service enhancements on their own connections for traffic of their choosing, would be unlikely to violate the no unreasonable discrimination rule, provided the broadband provider's offerings were fully disclosed and were not harmful to competition or end users.[217] We recognize that there is not a binary distinction between end-user controlled and broadband-provider controlled practices, but rather a spectrum of practices ranging from more end-user controlled to more broadband provider-controlled.[218] And we do not suggest that practices controlled entirely by broadband providers are by definition unreasonable.

72.  Some commenters suggest that open Internet protections would prohibit broadband providers from offering their subscribers different tiers of service or from charging their subscribers based on bandwidth consumed.[219] We are, of course, always concerned about anti-consumer or anticompetitive practices, and we remain so here. However, prohibiting tiered or usage-based pricing and requiring all subscribers to pay the same amount for broadband service, regardless of the performance or usage of the service, would force lighter end users of the network to subsidize heavier end users. It would also foreclose practices that may appropriately align incentives to encourage efficient use of networks.[220] The framework we adopt today does not prevent broadband providers from asking subscribers who use the network less to pay less, and subscribers who use the network more to pay more.

73.  Use-Agnostic Discrimination. Differential treatment of traffic that does not discriminate among specific uses of the network or classes of uses is likely reasonable. For example, during periods of congestion a broadband provider could provide more bandwidth to subscribers that have used the network less over some preceding period of time than to heavier users.[221] Use-agnostic discrimination (sometimes referred to as application-agnostic discrimination) is consistent with Internet openness because it does not interfere with end users' choices about which content, applications, services, or devices to use. Nor does it distort competition among edge providers.[222]

74.  Standard Practices. The conformity or lack of conformity of a practice with best practices and technical standards adopted by open, broadly representative, and independent Internet engineering, governance initiatives, or standards-setting organizations is another factor to be considered in evaluating reasonableness. Recognizing the important role of such groups is consistent with Congress's intent that our rules in the Internet area should not "fetter[]" the free market with unnecessary regulation,[223] and is consistent with broadband providers' historic reliance on such groups.[224] We make clear, however, that we are not delegating authority to interpret or implement our rules to outside bodies.[225]

75.  In evaluating unreasonable discrimination, the types of practices we would be concerned about include, but are not limited to, discrimination that harms an actual or potential competitor to the broadband provider (such as by degrading VoIP applications or services when the broadband provider offers telephone service),[226] that harms end users (such as by inhibiting end users from accessing the content, applications, services, or devices of their choice),[227] or that impairs free expression (such as by slowing traffic from a particular blog because the broadband provider disagrees with the blogger's message).[228]

76.  For a number of reasons, including those discussed above in Part II.B , a commercial arrangement between a broadband provider and a third party to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic in the broadband Internet access service connection to a subscriber of the broadband provider (i.e ., "pay for priority") would raise significant cause for concern. U.S. broadband providers currently engage in such arrangements. Second this departure from longstanding norms could cause great harm to innovation and investment in and on the Internet. As discussed above, pay-for-priority arrangements could raise barriers to entry on the Internet by requiring fees from edge providers, as well as transaction costs arising from the need to reach agreements with one or more broadband providers to access a critical mass of potential end users.[230] Fees imposed on edge providers may be excessive because few edge providers have the ability to bargain for lesser fees, and because no broadband provider internalizes the full costs of reduced innovation and the exit of edge providers from the market.[231] Third, pay-for-priority arrangements may particularly harm non-commercial end users, including individual bloggers, libraries, schools, advocacy organizations, and other speakers,[232] especially those who communicate through video or other content sensitive to network congestion. Even open Internet skeptics acknowledge that pay for priority may disadvantage non-commercial uses of the network, which are typically less able to pay for priority, and for which the Internet is a uniquely important platform.[233] Fourth, broadband providers that sought to offer pay-for-priority services would have an incentive to limit the quality of service provided to non-prioritized traffic.[234] In light of each of these concerns, as a general matter, it is unlikely that pay for priority would satisfy the "no unreasonable discrimination" standard. The practice of a broadband Internet access service provider prioritizing its own content, applications, or services, or those of its affiliates, would raise the same significant concerns and would be subject to the same standards and considerations in evaluating reasonableness as third-party pay-for-priority arrangements.

77. Because we agree with the diverse group of commenters who argue that any nondiscrimination rule should prohibit only unreasonable discrimination, we decline to adopt the more rigid nondiscrimination rule proposed in the Open Internet NPRM.[236] A strict nondiscrimination rule would be in tension with our recognition that some forms of discrimination, including end-user controlled discrimination, can be beneficial. The rule we adopt provides broadband providers' sufficient flexibility to develop service offerings and pricing plans, and to effectively and reasonably manage their networks.[237] We disagree with commenters who argue that a standard based on "reasonableness" or "unreasonableness" is too vague to give broadband providers fair notice of what is expected of them.[238] This is not so. "Reasonableness" is a well-established standard for regulatee conduct.[239] As other commenters have pointed out, the term "reasonable" is "both administrable and indispensable to the sound administration of the nation's telecommunications laws."[240]

78.  We also reject the argument that only "anticompetitive" discrimination yielding "substantial consumer harm" should be prohibited by our rules.[241] We are persuaded those proposed limiting terms are unduly narrow and could allow discriminatory conduct that is contrary to the public interest.[242] The broad purposes of this rule-to encourage competition and remove impediments to infrastructure investment while protecting consumer choice, free expression, end-user control, and the ability to innovate without permission[243] -cannot be achieved by preventing only those practices that are demonstrably anticompetitive or harmful to consumers. Rather, the rule rests on the general proposition that broadband providers should not pick winners and losers on the Internet-even for reasons that may be independent of providers' competitive interests[244] or that may not immediately or demonstrably cause substantial consumer harm.[245]

79. We disagree with commenters who argue that a rule against unreasonable discrimination violates section 3(51) of the Communications Act for those broadband providers that are telecommunications carriers but do not provide their broadband Internet access service as a telecommunications service.[246] Section 3(51) provides that a "telecommunications carrier shall be treated as a common carrier under this Act only to the extent that it is engaged in providing telecommunications services."[247] This limitation is not relevant to the Commission's actions here.[248] The hallmark of common carriage is an "undertak[ing] to carry for all people indifferently."[249] An entity "will not be a common carrier where its practice is to make individualized decisions, in particular cases, whether and on what terms to deal" with potential customers.[250] The customers at issue here are the end users who subscribe to broadband Internet access services.[251] With respect to those customers, a broadband provider may make individualized decisions. A broadband provider that chooses not to offer its broadband Internet access service on a common carriage basis can, for instance, decide on a case-by-case basis whether to serve a particular end user, what connection speed(s) to offer, and at what price. The open Internet rules become effective only after such a provider has voluntarily entered into a mutually satisfactory arrangement with the end user, which may be tailored to that user. Even then, as discussed above, the allowance for reasonable disparities permits customized service features such as those that enhance end user control over what Internet content is received. This flexibility to customize service arrangements for a particular customer is the hallmark of private carriage, which is the antithesis of common carriage. [252]


Methods of Blocking / Interference

Port Blocking

Traffic Management / Shaping

Traffic Shaping

FTC Staff Report 2007 p 64: "Network neutrality opponents argue that new types of specialized services and premium content require sophisticated, "intelligent" data-traffic management at both the core and edges of the Internet. Principal examples include VoIP, streaming video for movies and telemedicine, large video download files, interactive network video games, and customized business applications. In their view, "dumb" networks based on the original TCP/IP protocol's first-in-first-out and best-efforts standards are becoming increasingly outdated for certain content and applications. Opponents argue that many of these newer applications are sensitive to different levels of speed, latency, jitter, symmetry, bursting, and capacity. For example, virtual teleconferencing generally requires high speed, low latency, and symmetry, while some one-time video downloads might require only high speed. By contrast, VoIP does not require significant bandwidth, but is sensitive to latency and jitter. Neutrality critics argue, therefore, that network intelligence will be increasingly necessary to provide the optimal transmission climate for each of these new types of content and applications and that both content and applications providers and other end users should be allowed to purchase services appropriate to their particular needs."

In 2007, reports surfaced that Comcast was engaged in traffic shaping, and was degrading P2P traffic, specifically BitTorrent traffic.

FTC Staff Report 2007 p : "Net neutrality proponents also express concern about the prospect of network operators integrating vertically into the provision of content and applications. Proponents argue that network operators now have the legal and technological ability to control both their own physical networks and the ability of content and applications providers to reach end users. Proponents further suggest that vertically integrated network operators will favor their own content and applications, or those of their affiliates, over others. Some of these proponents, therefore, argue that network operators' ability to vertically integrate should be legally restricted or forbidden altogether."