Skip to main content

The FCC in the US rescinded its network neutrality rules on Dec. 14, 2017 with the Restoring Internet Freedom Ruling, Report and Order.  Legally, the action takes the classification of the broadband Internet access service back to its 2015 classification to an information service instead of a telecommunication service and back to being under Title I of the Communications Act from Title II, which had a much more stringent regulation.  Furthermore, mobile broadband returns to an “interconnected service” as it was in 2015.  By changing the language that describes broadband internet service, the applicable laws change as well.  The regulatory focus is now on “transparency” with some limited modifications to enhance transparency relative to pre- 2015 period. The new order replaces the FCC conduct rules and clarifies  the rules  about what represents acceptable and unacceptable business and network management practices. 

The Internet Freedom ruling can be summarized as three basic “Clear, Bright Line Rules.” The first rule is  for blocking that prevents for both fixed and mobile broadband providers from blocking access to lawful Internet content, applications, services, and non-harmful devices. The second rule is no-throttling in that the service provider “shall not impair or degrade lawful Internet traffic based on Internet content, application, or service, or use of a non-harmful device, subject to reasonable network management.”  If a broadband provider degraded the delivery of an 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. This is especially applicable if the service provider offers a competing service.  The third rule is no paid prioritization and prohibits the “management of a broadband provider’s network to directly or indirectly favor some traffic over other traffic, including using 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.”

Many of these rules correspond to those positions by many network neutrality proponents.  The key difference is that the rules are what the FCC terms as “clear, bright line rules” instead of the complexity of Title II regulations.  

For Further Reading

FCC’s Rule making on network neutrality, Restoring Internet Freedom,  WC Docket No. 17-108, Declaratory Ruling, Report and Order and Order, Adopted: December 14, 2017, Released: January 4, 2018

Amy Nordrum, “Is Net Neutrality Good or Bad for Innovation?,” January 2018,

Harsha Madhyastha, “A Case Against Net Neutrality”,  IEEE Spectrum, December 2017,

Nicholas Economides, “A Case for Net Neutrality,” IEEE Spectrum, Dec 2017,

Jorge Perez Martinez (Coord.), Net Neutrality: Contributions to the Debase, Volume 26 of Coleccion Fundacion Telefonica, 2011, IDBN 8408098926,

Jeffrey Reed, Nishith Tripathi, “The Downside of Net Neutrality”, Scientific American, December 2017,

Jeffrey H. Reed & Nishith D. Tripathi, “The Application of Network Neutrality Regulations to Wireless Systems: A Mission Infeasible,”