Net Neutrality Meets Muni Broadband

Also, Appallicious releases its disaster assessment dashboard, and lawmakers is New York and California experiment with crowdsourced legislation.

The net neutrality discussion has raged since January when a U.S. appeals court struck down federal rules that barred broadband providers from creating fast and slow Internet lanes, essentially allowing ISPs to favor some sites and slow down others.

In response, the FCC proposed rules that would comply with the court’s ruling, causing a national debate that crashed the commission’s public comment system in July.

The agency received more than 1.1 million comments on the proposed rules, the most that have ever been received for FCC rulemaking (and making it the second most popular FCC issue in terms of comments, ranking only behind 2004’s Super Bowl halftime wardrobe malfunction).

The FCC is expected to make a decision by the end of the year, but at the heart of the debate is the commission’s authority to regulate the Internet — an issue that could impact state and local government. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, Congress gave the FCC the power to regulate telecommunications services and depending on how the FCC asserts its power, it could change the municipal broadband field significantly.

Twenty states have outlawed or restricted muni broadband networks, but many people now contend that the FCC’s congressional charter, which has come under review during the net neutrality talks, lets the commission pre-empt state-level restrictions.

The FCC’s net neutrality ruling has turned into a bigger conversation about broadband’s future and how far the FCC’s authority reaches. Some light will be shed once the agency decides on the new open Internet rules — an issue being watched closely by industry, consumers and governments alike.

Back to the Year in Review: Making Sense of 2014


Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.
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