Is the F.C.C. About to Kill “Net Neutrality?”

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
April 23 2014 6:52 PM

F.C.C. Proposes New “Net Neutrality” Rules

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Content companies like Netflix can buy preferential access to online consumers under a new F.C.C. proposal.

Photo by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images for Netflix

The Federal Communications Commission is on the verge of an about face on so called “net neutrality.” On Wednesday, the Wall Street Journal reported the FCC is set to put forward a proposal that would allow content companies to pay for preferential access to consumers online. The practice of allowing certain companies faster, uninterrupted access to users had been prohibited by the FCC, but a U.S. federal court of appeals recently struck down that provision forcing the FCC to rewrite its rules on net neutrality.

The new set of proposed rules, as the Wall Street Journal reports, “would prevent the service providers from blocking or discriminating against specific websites, but would allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment, so long as such arrangements are available on ‘commercially reasonable’ terms for all interested content companies. Whether the terms are commercially reasonable would be decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis.”  That would give companies such as Netflix, Google and Facebook the ability to pay to ensure their content reaches end users ahead of others. This marks a turnaround in the FCC’s previous policy on net neutrality, which the New York Times describes as “the principle that Internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose, and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers.”

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Here’s more on some of the concerns that arise from the changes from the Washington Post:

The draft proposal could change before it is brought to a vote next month, but it is sure to spark an outcry from consumer advocates who say the practice would give Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner Cable too much power over the experience of Web users. Another concern is that under the system being proposed by the FCC, large Web companies like Facebook and Google would have an unfair advantage over startups that can't afford to pay for priority access into U.S. homes.
The FCC's proposed rules would not allow telecom firms to block Web sites. On a case-by-case basis, the agency would watch for practices that are anti-competitive; for instance, if Verizon threatened to slow down Netflix, which competes with Verizon's Redbox Instant video and FiOS television service, the FCC could potentially weigh in. Broadband firms could begin to strike deals for preferential treatment on their networks, according to the source, as long as agreements between the firms are considered "commercially reasonable." 

Elliot Hannon is a writer in Washington, D.C. Follow him on Twitter.