Remember those net neutrality rules the U.S. Federal Communications Commission passed back in December? The agency is taking steps toward finally implementing them, although the rules still won't go into effect for months.
The FCC on Thursday took a procedural step toward publishing the controversial rules in the Federal Register, the official U.S. government publication for agency rules. The FCC, said a spokesman, planned to send a Paperwork Reduction Act notice to the Federal Register and the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Thursday, one of the final steps before the rules are published.
Next week, the Federal Register is likely to publish the FCC's estimates on the paperwork burden the net neutrality rules would create, the spokesman said. After a 30-day public comment period on the paperwork estimate, the OMB will have to approve the proposed rules.
After the OMB approves the rules, they will be published in the Federal Register. Sixty days after publication, they go into effect, meaning it could be nearly a year between the FCC's vote to approve and the implementation of the rules.
The Paperwork Reduction Act, passed by Congress in 1980, was intended to reduce the paperwork burden that the U.S. government creates for the public. The law requires federal agencies to get OMB approval before collecting a significant amount of new information from the public or from businesses.
The net neutrality, or open Internet, rules prohibit broadband providers from selectively blocking or slowing Web traffic or applications. The rules also require broadband providers to disclose to the public information about their pricing, speeds and network management practices, and that portion of the rules is what needs to comply with the Paperwork Reduction Act, the FCC spokesman said.
Some FCC critics have questioned why the agency has not yet published the rules in the Federal Register. Back in April, Representative Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican, questioned if the agency was delaying publication in order to derail an effort by House of Representatives Republicans to repeal the rules.
The FCC has not delayed the publication of the rules, agency Chairman Julius Genachowski has said. Any perceived delay is because the agency is complying with the Paperwork Reduction Act, he has said.
No one seems happy that the rules aren't yet published, said Mike Wendy, director of MediaFreedom.org, a free-market advocacy group and critic of the net neutrality rules. "These rules have taken too long to reach even [this] stage," he said. "The process ... really has me scratching my head. Makes me wonder if the commission has confidence in its own rule."
In recent months, FCC officials have also met with several groups concerned about the rules, including the United States Telecom Association, the American Cable Association and Free Press.
Without publication of the rules, potential lawsuits by broadband providers have been stalled. In April, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia threw out a Verizon Communications lawsuit challenging the rules, saying the lawsuit wasn't appropriate before the rules are published.
On Thursday, the FCC published guidance for broadband providers on how to comply with the rules, requiring them to disclose information about their service and their network management practices. Requirements that broadband providers provide information to customers at the point of sale does not mean that the carriers have to hand out extensive hard copies, the FCC said in Thursday's guidance.
Instead, the providers can disclose the information on a website.
The American Cable Association said the guidance "lessens concerns" it had about the amount of information that small broadband providers would have to give customers.
Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is email@example.com.