Net Neutrality Proposal Forthcoming From The FCC
April 24, 2014

FCC May Level Playing Field In Regards To Net Neutrality

Peter Suciu for - Your Universe Online

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is set to put forth new rules on Thursday, and this proposal marks the third attempt by the government agency to enforce “net neutrality.” This is the concept that all Internet traffic should be treated equally.

The Wall Street Journal reported late on Wednesday that the plan, developed by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, could prevent broadband Internet providers including Comcast Corp., Verizon Communications Inc., and Time Warner Cable from blocking or even slowing down individual websites served up to a consumer.

The concept is that consumers should have the right to access whatever content they choose and not just content chosen by the broadband provider. However, it could also allow those providers to give “preferential treatment.” This is in part an update to what the FCC has called an "Open Internet", which was introduced in February.

“The ‘Open Internet’ is the Internet as we know it, a level playing field where consumers can make their own choices about what applications and services to use, and where consumers are free to decide what content they want to access, create, or share with others. The FCC adopted the Open Internet rules to ensure that the Internet remains a powerful platform for innovation and job creation; to empower consumers and entrepreneurs; to protect free expression; to promote competition; to increase certainty in the marketplace by providing greater predictability for all stakeholders regarding federal policy in this area, and to spur investment both at the ‘edge,’ and in the core of our broadband networks,” the agency states.

While some critics had felt that the Open Internet Rule didn’t go far enough in creating a level playing field, on Wednesday Wheeler was quick to suggest that it wasn’t being dismantled via net neutrality.

“There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule,” the FCC chairman said in a statement as reported by The Verge. “They are flat out wrong. Tomorrow we will circulate to the Commission a new Open Internet proposal that will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January. There is no ‘turnaround in policy.’ 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.”

While the latest call for net neutrality could be an attempt to find middle ground, critics responded quickly to Wheeler’s proposal.

“The FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online,” said Michael Weinberg, vice president at Public Knowledge, an Internet advocacy group, via a statement sent to redOrbit. “The very essence of a ‘commercial reasonableness’ standard is discrimination. And the core of net neutrality is non discrimination. This is not net neutrality. This standard allows ISPs to impose a new price of entry for innovation on the Internet. When the Commission used a commercial reasonableness standard for wireless data roaming, it explicitly found that it may be commercially reasonable for a broadband ISP to charge an edge provider higher rates because its service is competitively threatening.”

Weinberg added that it is hard to see how the commercial reasonableness standard can serve the same policy goals, and suggested that it actually offers less protection than the standard in the previous Open Internet Rules.

Weinberg further stressed that “approaching discrimination on a case-by-case basis creates less certainty than clear rules and disadvantages small businesses and entrepreneurs. The Commission should instead seek to find a way to ensure true net neutrality, including protections against discrimination by ISPs for commercial purposes.”

“Pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, non-profits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls,” added Craig Aaron, president of the group Free Press, in an e-mailed statement to Bloomberg on Wednesday. “He called the proposal ‘a convoluted path that won’t protect Internet users.”

For now the FCC remains caught between a promise to keep the Internet open while at the same time ensuring broadband providers’ desire to find new business models as the market evolves.