Restoring Internet Freedom: The Status and Systems Implications of the FCC's Order to Dismantle Net Neutrality

With the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) net-neutrality rules expiring Apr. 23, many proponents of net neutrality are braced for what seems to be an imminent demise of federally regulated internet freedom. However, the end result remains uncertain.

In 2015, the FCC adopted net-neutrality rules, which in essence prohibited internet service providers (ISPs) from speeding up, slowing down or blocking lawful internet transmissions and content. On Dec. 14, 2017, under new leadership appointed by President Trump, the FCC approved Chairman Ajit Pai’s plan to repeal net-neutrality protections, including treating all data equally and the classification of broadband as an essential utility.

Millions of activists originally pressured the FCC to adopt the rules so the internet would be free and open—and today many more, including businesses, corporations and giants like Amazon are working to keep it that way. The movement even has its own social media hashtag: #SavetheInternet.

Net-neutrality proponents fear, without internet protections, companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon and others will control content and transmission speeds—even charge extra for preferential treatment with faster and slower tiers of service.

In January 2018, the Internet Association, which represents Amazon, Google and Facebook, joined an existing lawsuit against the FCC. Big technology companies and startups, part of the Coalition for Internet Openness, filed a petition in March 2018 with the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit Court against the FCC’s decision.

The alarm industry is a staunch proponent of net neutrality and opposes its repeal, especially since communications is primarily internet protocol (IP) and not landline based. The industry had previously carved out protection under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 from monopolies and unfair business practices. Without net neutrality, it faces losing its protection and avenue for recourse.

For the physical security industry, it’s critical that net neutrality remain intact—with its mission to provide life safety and the ability to receive duress, fire or other life threatening alerts quickly and unencumbered.

Where it stands

In Congress, lawmakers have worked to keep the FCC from scrapping net neutrality. Democratic senators were close to passing a Congressional Review Act (CRA) intended to stop the FCC’s order. In accordance with the Congressional Review Act, the senators would formally introduce the resolution once the rule was submitted to both houses of Congress and published in the Federal Register.

“Our main concern is that security and life safety system communications are not impeded,” said Jake Parker, director of Government Relations for the Security Industry Association (SIA), Silver Spring, Md. “Traditional alarm systems don’t use a lot of data but increasingly are moving to mobile and video applications. If we don’t have these internet rules in place, it may certainly affect communications of security and life safety systems.”

The Alarm Industry Communications Committee (AICC) filed this document on Aug. 30, 2017 on the Commission’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on WC Docket No. 17-108 related to net neutrality.

The AICC is comprised of representatives of the SIA, The Monitoring Association (TMA), The Electronic Security Association (ESA), and major alarm companies and manufacturers. According to the document presented in the “Matter of Restoring Internet Freedom,” the AICC’s members compete directly with certain large broadband internet access service providers (BIAS) in the provision of security monitoring, installation and other service.

Submitted by Louis T. Fiore, AICC Chairman, the docket states: “AICC points out that if BIAS is reclassified as an information service, the Commission does not have the authority to continue or extend its existing forbearance policy, including statutory provisions specific to the alarm industry. AICC also supports the proposals in the record to adopt expedited complaint processing and equal treatment of fixed and mobile broadband service.”

It continues: “The necessity of prompt transmission of alarm signals cannot be overstated. AICC member companies protect over 30 million residential, business and sensitive facilities and their occupants from fire, burglaries, sabotage and other emergencies. Protected facilities include government offices, power plants, hospitals, dam and water authorities, pharmaceutical plants, chemical plants, banks, schools and universities. In addition to these commercial and governmental applications, alarm companies protect a large and increasing number of residential customers from fire, intruders and carbon monoxide poisoning. Alarm companies also provide Personal Emergency Response System (PERS) services for obtaining medical services and ambulances in the event of medical emergencies. As the Commission considers reducing or eliminating regulatory controls over providers of broadband services, it is imperative to ensure that vital alarm communications are left unimpeded. Alarm companies (and indeed, all telecommunications) are inevitably becoming more reliant upon the internet to provide service. The Commission should, as a matter of public interest, ensure that its actions in this proceeding do not impair the alarm industry’s ability to ensure the prompt delivery of its services to protected customers.”

Parker said the SIA believes the best long-term remedy is for Congress to pursue legislation that sets the rule in statute.

“The clock is ticking down,” he said. “We are concerned about the ramifications without restrictions in place and are looking to legislation as the answer. Much of the debate also centers on the evolution of the internet and increasingly connected devices. We are concerned about where things go from here, and it’s time to get it figured out.”

As the effective date of the FCC's repeal has passed, some steps still need to be taken before ISPs can proceed legally in altering their business models to take advantage of net neutrality's absence. The Office of Management and Budget has yet to approve the repeal, and once it does, the order will go back to the federal register. The Trump Administration could block the rules, but at this point, experts say that is highly unlikely. The only thing that could restore internet freedom to users is Congressional action through legislation.

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at dlocommunications@gmail.com...

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