World and Nation

FCC could allow fast lane on web in net neutrality policy shift

WASHINGTON — The principle that all Internet content should be treated equally as it flows through cables and pipes to consumers looks all but dead.

The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would propose rules that allow companies like Disney, Google or Netflix to pay Internet service providers like Comcast and Verizon for special, faster lanes to send video and other content to their customers.

The proposed changes would affect what is known as net neutrality — the idea that no providers of legal Internet content should face discrimination in providing offerings to consumers and that users should have equal access to see any legal content they choose.

The proposal comes three months after a federal appeals court struck down, for the second time, agency rules intended to guarantee a free and open Internet.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler defended the agency’s plans late Wednesday, saying speculation that the FCC was “gutting the open Internet rule” is “flat out wrong.” Rather, he said, the new rules would provide for net neutrality along the lines of the appeals court’s decision.

Still, the regulations could radically reshape how Internet content is delivered to consumers. For example, if a gaming company could not afford the fast track to players, customers could lose interest and its product could fail.

The rules could also raise prices as the likes of Disney and Netflix passed on to customers whatever they paid for the speedier lanes, which would be the digital equivalent of an uncongested car pool lane on a busy freeway.

Consumer groups attacked the proposal, saying that not only would costs rise but that big companies with the money to pay large fees to Internet service providers would be favored over startups with innovative business models — stifling the birth of the next Facebook or Twitter.

“If it goes forward, this capitulation will represent Washington at its worst,” said Todd O’Boyle, program director of Common Cause’s Media and Democracy Reform Initiative. “Americans were promised, and deserve, an Internet that is free of toll roads, fast lanes and censorship — corporate or governmental.” If the new rules deliver anything less, he added, “that would be a betrayal.”

Wheeler rebuffed such criticism. “There is no ‘turnaround in policy,’ he said in a statement. ”The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original open Internet rules, and consistent with the court’s decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.“

Broadband companies have pushed for the right to build special lanes. Verizon said during appeals court arguments that if it could make those kinds of deals, it would.

Under the proposal, broadband providers would have to disclose how they treated all Internet traffic and on what terms they offered more rapid lanes, and would be required to act “in a commercially reasonable manner,” agency officials said. That standard would be fleshed out as the agency seeks public comment.

1 Comment
Anonymous about 10 years ago

In 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled in the Brand X case that broadband services should not be classified as telecommunications services. Because broadband is not a telecommunications service, broadband providers' infrastructure is not considered a public right of way and should not be regulated by the FCC under the common carrier concept.

In January of 2014 the DC Federal Circuit Court of Appeals struck down the "Net Neutrality" portion of the FCC's Open Internet Order stating, ""even though the commission has general authority to regulate in this arena, it may not impose requirements that contravene express statutory mandates. Given that the commission has chosen to classify broadband providers in a manner that exempts them from treatment as common carriers, the Communications Act expressly prohibits the commission from nonetheless regulating them as such. Because the commission has failed to establish that the anti-discrimination and anti-blocking rules do not impose per se common carrier obligations, we vacate those portions of the Open Internet Order."

For the FCC to regulate the Internet as Common Carraige (which would allow for the FCC to impose Net Neutrality Rules)would require that an Amendment to the Telecommunications Act of 1996 be brought before Congress. This would require the Republican Chairman of Communications and Telchnology to bring up such an amentment.

In a Statement released April 24, 2014 the Chairman of the House Committee basicaly stated that we don't have to worry about Net Nuetrality because the Industry will regulate itself.