Net-Neutrality RulesUnlikely to ArriveBefore Late August

Washington — Looks like cable operators won’t
have to worry about the imposition of the Federal
Communications Commission’s network-neutrality
rules, or the complaint process that goes along
with it, until late August or September.

That’s about the earliest the rules could go into effect,
60 days after the Office of Management and Budget
publishes them in the Federal Register.
Lawsuits can be filed after publication, so the rule challenges
could come before the
rules themselves. Verizon Communications
and cellphone firm
MetroPCS have already filed,
but were found by a court to
have jumped the gun. The rules
are the result of the FCC’s vote
on Dec. 23, 2010, to expand and
codify net-neutrality guidelines.

Cable operators argue they
are already promoting an open
Internet, so the bright-line rules may not have much immediate
effect in terms of change in conduct or business
practices. But the mechanism of a new complaint process
will create the potential for more paperwork and legal
fees for the complaints about Internet-service providers
that net-neutrality advocates have promised.

FCC general counsel Austin Schlick told Multichannel
last week that the agency has not yet sent the rules to
the Office of Management and Budget. The FCC is still reviewing
a “substantial” number of comments, according
to an agency source. Those include a filing from the National
Cable & Telecommunications Association, which
argues that the FCC has lowballed the time and expense
of the new complaint procedure it created to enforce the
net-neutrality guidelines on a case-by-case basis.

The FCC has not officially said when it will finish reviewing
those comments, but another source familiar
with the process said the filings raised questions about
the scope and flexibility of the rules that the commission
is trying to vet as thoroughly as possible.

FCC chairman Julius Genachowski was asked during
an oversight hearing last week in the House Judiciary
Internet subcommittee why the agency was
delaying release of the rules. He said the FCC was
working as quickly as it could.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.