January 1, 2016 | By Jeremy Gillula

Net Neutrality and More: 2015 in Review

When it comes to net neutrality, 2015 started off with a blast. In February the FCC reclassified retail broadband Internet service as a telecommunications service, and issued strong new net neutrality rules while forbearing from almost all the other Title II regulations. In other words, Team Internet started the year off with a huge victory (with a few caveats, which we’ll return to at the end).

Of course, the rules were quickly challenged by the ISPs in court. In order to help defend the rules, we gathered an all-star list of computer science professors and Internet engineers to explain to the court just how vital net neutrality has been in helping the Internet grow and flourish. The case itself was heard by the court in early December; it will likely be many months before we find out whether or not the court was persuaded.

In the meantime, net neutrality wasn’t the only issue that brought the FCC onto EFF’s radar this year.

In November, the FCC announced that it would not create regulations requiring websites to honor Do Not Track requests. (DNT requests are signals web browsers send to websites to indicate that users don’t want to be tracked or profiled—the same requests Privacy Badger is designed to enforce.) While we’re huge fans of DNT (and wish all websites would honor DNT requests), this was the right call by the FCC. It reinforced that the FCC would not be getting into the business of regulating websites, despite the fear mongering of net neutrality opponents.

And speaking of the potential for FCC over-regulation, we also wrote in November about another tricky situation that requires the FCC to strike the right regulatory balance: the push by Qualcomm and several mobile telcos to start using LTE-U technology.

LTE-U refers to a proposal by telcos to expand their LTE networks outside their traditional, licensed ranges and into some of the same unlicensed radio spectrum currently used by Wi-Fi and other consumer technology. While this might mean faster download speeds for telco customers, LTE-U could also end up interfering with Wi-Fi signals. (For an in-depth technical description of how, check out our blog post on the issue.)

Despite the possibility of interference, we wrote that FCC regulation of LTE-U (or more regulation of the unlicensed spectrum in general) wasn’t the right answer. Instead, the FCC should watch the deployment of LTE-U closely, and if LTE-U causes widespread interference with Wi-Fi, enforce existing regulations which forbid “knowing interference.” In other words, if LTE-U doesn’t play nice with other technology in practice, then (and only then) should the FCC step in.

All of these events share an underlying theme: that the FCC has a delicate balancing act to maintain when it comes to regulating technology, and that we need to be vigilant in order to ensure it maintains that balance. Whether it’s how the FCC handles LTE-U, how it deals with the battle brewing over zero-rating, or how it applies its “general conduct” rule (which we’ve expressed concerns about), you can be sure that we’ll be keeping a close eye on the FCC in the coming year.

This article is part of our Year In Review series; read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2015. Like what you're reading? EFF is a member-supported nonprofit, powered by donations from individuals around the world. Join us today and defend free speech, privacy, and innovation.

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