Potential Public Safety Issues with the FCC’s Proposed Network Neutrality Rules

Is network neutrality a public-safety issue? The answer is yes, according to Catherine Sandoval, a commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission, who spoke out at a recent network neutrality public forum in Sacramento, California. The forum was hosted by Representative Doris Matsui, and featured FCC commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clyburn. Multichannel News, Fox40 News, and The National Journal all reported recaps of the event. At the forum, Rosenworcel stated that the public safety aspect of network neutrality was not talked enough about in Washington, reports Multichannel News.

The recent network neutrality debate has spurred widespread discussion since January 2014, when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia stripped the FCC of its power to enforce network neutrality protections under the regulatory framework it was using (holding that the classification of broadband carriers as “information services” as defined in the 1996 Telecommunications Act contradicted a previous FCC decision that put broadband companies beyond its regulatory reach). Read the full case here.  Read a Washington Post report on the case here.

If the FCC reclassifies Internet carriage as a “telecommunications service,” online communications would automatically be subject to common carrier protections.  Instead, the FCC has proposed a rule allowing companies to pay for access to a fast lane to deliver content to their customers.  So how does this proposed rule effect public safety?

According to Catherine Sandoval, allowing paid prioritization of Internet traffic could hurt critical systems such as 911 call centers and water pumps, reports The National Journal. Not only that, according to the Multichannel report, Ms. Sandoval went on to warn that other critical systems could be negatively impacted, citing nuclear power plants and critical care smart beds for stroke patients.

How does net neutrality effect these systems which have broad public safety implications?  According to the Fox40 News Report, Ms. Sandoval explained at the forum that the free and open use of the internet has allowed utilities to develop programs and apps to monitor and control energy use, and that “subjecting internet access to negotiations and slowdowns to minimum speeds can make pumps fail to open so they don’t provide water for cooling a power plant or water to fight a fire.” The Multichannel report then goes on to explain that the minimum broadband speeds available for the non-paying ISP clients would not provide the quality of broadband service required by these critical systems.  However, the National Journal reports that many skeptics of net-neutrality rules point to public safety as a reason that Internet providers should be given flexibility to prioritize some services.

For a fuller recap of the net neutrality public forum, here are links to the articles by Multichannel News, Fox40 News, and the National Journal.  Click here to access a Washington Post article discussing the broader implications of the proposed FCC rule, including whether it this type of internet regulation should be controlled by the FTC or the FCC.



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Professor William Snyder

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