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An Open Internet: FCC Moves Towards Net Neutrality

By Neetal Parekh on October 26, 2009 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) may not be looking to become the next viral video sensation, or be pining to find itself the subject of a social media campaign, or even long to be the most-queried term on search engines...but it definitely wants a place at the broadband table.

And it may have solidified its spot this week.

The FCC recently approved a notice of proposed rule making on net neutrality.  And whether you are new to the concept of "open internet" or are a seasoned veteran, here are the nuts and bolts on net neutrality, the FCC, and what could be in store for law firms and consumers in the future.

What is net neutrality?

The idea is to keep internet open regardless of content.  Whether accessing video, social media feed, or online photo albums net neutrality calls on internet service providers to provide the same internet service regardless of what users are accessing.  In this way, internet service would take place on a content-neutral basis. 

Considering the popularity of online video streaming, there is a concern that telecom companies could set forth premiums based on what consumers use broadband for.  So, in the argument for net neutrality the pro side has generally had users, major internet websites such as Google, consumer advocacy groups, internet start-ups...and a majority of the FCC.  For the "nays"--AT&T, Comcast, and other internet providers voice concern that blocking opportunities to charge premiums based on content may affect the overall speed of internet service.

Why is the FCC getting involved?

First, a few quick facts about the FCC:

  • It is comprised of 5 members (currently 3 Democrats and 2 Republicans)
  • It is an independent agency, not part of the Executive Branch.
  • all Commissioners are appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate for 5-year terms.
  • It is charged with regulating interstate and international communication by radio, television, wire, cable and wireless, satellite-based communication.

FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski has been quoted as stating that the "government should not be in the business of running or regulating the Internet" and that the draft rules are designed to level the playing field for consumers and internet users by protecting their rights to access lawful content, applications, and services.

What's the next step for net neutrality?

Comments can be filed through the FCC's Electronic Comment Filling System until Thursday, January 14, 2010.  The rulemaking process will also include other avenues for public input, including workshops, feeedback through and other media tools.

How will law firms be affected?

Whether researching case law online, using social media to keep up with the latest legal news, or participating in webinars on emerging issues in litigation and eDiscovery, the internet has become a staple of legal practice.  Law firms not only market their services online but they also use web-based tools to connect with clients, file court documents, and conduct e-Discovery.  The proposed safeguards on open internet could affect the kinds of tools law firms invest in with regards to legal technology and audience engagement. 

There are many arguments in the debate on net neutrality, you have until January 14th 2010 to voice yours.

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