FCC clarifies that its net neutrality order doesn’t allow 5G fast lanes – MediaNama.com

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has clarified that broadband internet access service provider’s decision to speed up services on the basis of internet content, applications, or services would “impair or degrade” other content, applications, or services that are not given the same treatment. Based on the final text of the authority’s order on net neutrality, speeding up certain services would also be considered “throttling”, which means intentionally speeding up or slowing down of internet services. Throttling is explicitly prohibited under the net neutrality rules.

This comes after proponents of net neutrality, like Stanford Law Professor Barbara Van Schewick and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), had called out the rules for leaving room for 5G fast lanes within the draft rules. Fast lanes are made feasible by a technical feature of the 5G network called network slicing— which allows telcos to create a virtualized subnetwork (called a ‘slice’) for a dedicated purpose. “While draft order acknowledges that some speeding up of apps could violate the no-throttling rule, it added some unclear, nebulous language suggesting that the FCC would review any fast lanes case-by-case, without explaining how it would do that,” Van Schewick had said in a blog post explaining the issue present in the draft rules.

The FCC voted in favor of re-introducing net neutrality in the US on April 25, but it didn’t release the final order till May 7. The order mentions that many, including Van Schewick, had written to the FCC expressing concern about the issues that would arise if telecom companies sped up the internet for certain kinds of content/service providers. “‘[b]eing put in a slow lane by an ISP has the exact same effect as being left out of a fast lane by an ISP,’ and that ‘[s]tartups needs to be protected from both’,” Van Schewick had mentioned in her letter to the FCC.

Why it matters:

5G fast lanes are not just a concern in the US but also in other countries like India. Responding to the consultation paper released by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) in December last year, Reliance Jio argued that there is a need to address “restrictive net neutrality and data charging rules,” to accommodate 5G requirements. The FCC’s stance on net neutrality and the treatment of 5G fast lanes could influence regulatory approaches in other countries, by setting a precedent for maintaining a free and open internet, even in the 5G era.

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