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Federal Communications Commission officials tried to calm concerns of net neutrality proponents who went into DEFCON 1 status Wednesday night after reports surfaced that the agency would allow Internet providers to charge for priority lanes of traffic.

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler penned a blog post Thursday in an effort to explain his new net neutrality proposal, which will be circulated among the other FCC commissioners today in anticipation of a vote May 15.

“To be very direct, the proposal would establish that behavior harmful to consumers or competition by limiting the openness of the Internet will not be permitted,” he wrote.

News reports that Wheeler opened the door to allow companies to buy priority lanes to subscribers weren’t wrong. But FCC officials are also trying to shut that door at the same time. They say that proposed priority deals wouldn’t be allowed if they harm consumers or decrease competition.

The agency would institute a case-by-case review of such deals to ensure they’re “commercially reasonable.” The big question remains how the FCC will define that term. In his blog post, Wheeler said that his proposal would “establish a high bar” for that standard.

In a call with reporters, an FCC official today suggested that the agency’s test could very well prevent companies like Google or Netflix from paying for fast-lane access. But it might allow for a company to offer priority access for a heart monitor service for cardiac patients.

The agency isn’t going to enact a flat ban, the FCC official said. Internet providers would be required to offer a baseline level of service. The agency will also look into how to set that standard, he said.

Other parts of the proposal would basically mirror what the agency did in 2010, when it passed its last effort at net neutrality, or Open Internet, rules. No legal content could be blocked. The agency would impose transparency rules on Internet service providers so they have to inform consumers what’s happening with their connections.

The rules also generally wouldn’t apply to wireless broadband networks, except for a provision that would prevent a wireless provider from blocking an app, content or website that offered a similar service to one offered by the carrier.

The FCC’s 2010 rules were also written to prevent legal content and websites from being blocked and to stop Internet providers from unreasonably discriminating against websites or competitors. The rules also allowed for content providers to buy prioritized or specialized services, but the term was pretty vague and the rules basically discouraged their use. The agency’s 2010 Open Internet rules were rejected by a federal appeals court earlier this year.

Wheeler has hinted for months that his new net neutrality proposal would rest on a legal standard that the appeals court suggested would be sufficient to uphold the rules. He has also made it clear in the past that he wasn’t opposed to the idea of a two-sided market, where companies like Netflix could pay for priority treatment.

Nevertheless, FCC officials were scrambling Thursday to respond to the online furor Wheeler’s new proposal created. An FCC official briefing reporters noted several times that the plan was still just a proposal and that the public would have plenty of time to comment on “before decisions are made.”

Three Democratic senators, New Jersey’s Cory Booker, Oregon’s Ron Wyden and Ed Markey of Massachusetts, have already expressed concerns on Twitter about the proposal. “The Internet’s rules of the road must not open up fast lanes to those who can pay, leaving others stuck in traffic,” Markey said in a statement.

A White House spokesman said officials there hadn’t seen the proposal yet but reiterated “the president strongly supports net neutrality.” The spokesman added the White House “will be closely following these developments as the FCC launches its proceeding.”

Wheeler said Thursday he wants to get new net neutrality rules enacted before the end of the year.



5 comments
tommi chen
tommi chen

Put these two together


“The agency would institute a case-by-case review of such deals to ensure they’re “commercially reasonable.” The big question remains how the FCC will define that term. In his blog post, Wheeler said that his proposal would “establish a high bar” for that standard. “


“He has also made it clear in the past that he wasn’t opposed to the idea of a two-sided market, where companies like Netflix could pay for priority treatment.”


And one may think it’s the 1% problem again, side with the big.  Maybe even the smaller telco/ISP is ‘un-sided’!

mknopp
mknopp

Oh, and I forgot to add my personal favorite.


They would make sure that the ISPs can't be "unreasonably discriminating against websites or competitors". Wow, how generous of them. I mean if they are going to legalize discrimination it is fortuitous that they will make sure it isn't unreasonable.


Here is a suggestion. How about the language read, "discriminating against websites or competitors will lead to a fine to be no less then 10% of the previous year's net income." That is how you enforce net neutrality, no mealy mouthed politician double speak or wiggle room for the corrupt. If you are found guilty of discriminating you will be fined, and this fine will not be so small that you can just consider it to be part of running a shady business.

mknopp
mknopp

If this wasn't a very real threat I would find it humorous. 


I have seldom seen a proposal and explanation so steeped in political speak. In other words, it says a lot of words without any real meaning.


For instance, I loved the response to what “commercially reasonable” means. The answer was that they would “establish a high bar” for that standard. So, their answer was just as meaningless as the subject of the original question.


I also love the fact that they would ensure that nobody could block a site. What an f'ing joke. Is this going to be like the current climate for IP? The Constitution says that it can't be for an unlimited time. Know what isn't an unlimted time? A hundred billion years. Or in the case of what they are doing an unlimited number of limited extensions. It is like the esoteric question of what number is less than infinite. Every number.


So, what does not blocking a website mean? I can just see it now. We don't like what this company has done so we moved them to the 14.4 kbs line. We are well within our legal right to do this because we didn't block them. If they act up again they will be moved to the 1.4 kbs line. Which our lawyers point out isn't blocking them. Anyone who wishes to visit their site can still do so. It will just take them a week to download a page. Which, we the ISP feel is perfectly reasonable.


I know that I am being a bit hyperbolic, but the overall result is valid. This is a disaster trying to happen.

Mcbeese
Mcbeese

This is so bogus.  Enterprises with critical response requirements, like the heart monitor example, don't use the open Internet.  They use private networks that Comcast et al are only too happy to charge them for.


Let's keep the discussion focused on the public consumer Internet.


Exactly what is broken?  What *consumer* problem is this proposal attempting to fix? I've not heard anything specific, just a lot of smoke screen.


This must not be allowed to happen.

gwold
gwold

"Techies Freak"?  "DEFCON1 status"?


Here I thought I was reading reputable news, but apparently I found a Tumblr blog.

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