May an Internet service provider block certain websites or content? May it slow Internet traffic from its competitors while favoring its own applications or services? Must the provider disclose these and other network management practices to its end-users?
On December 23, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission addressed these and other topics when it released new “open Internet” rules. [Link 1] Local government attorneys should review the rules closely. Depending on the nature of the Internet service that a local government uses or provides, the FCC’s rules could protect a local government (as an Internet user), and impose new obligations upon it (as a service provider).
An analysis of the new rules is available here. [Link 2] The rules apply to Internet service that is sold on a retail, “mass market” basis. The FCC indicated that its rules—which do not exempt Internet service provided by a governmental entity—would not apply to certain premise owners, such as coffee shops and airlines, who obtain Internet service for customers from a third party. Nevertheless, on many important questions, the rules are fairly ambiguous and may require FCC clarification.