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FCC’s Proposed Net Neutrality Changes Draw Opposition, Clarification

Early reports on the Federal Communications Commission's open-internet plans drew a roar of response due to changes that allow providers to offer a "fast lane" to content providers. But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the rules are less a "turnaround" than a shift in policy that works within the confines of net neutrality.

Early reports on the Federal Communications Commission’s open-internet plans drew a roar of response due to changes that allow providers to offer a “fast lane” to content providers. But FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler says the rules are less a “turnaround” than a shift in policy that works within the confines of net neutrality.

One of the most heated regulatory issues on the internet these days just kindled new flames.

The debate around open internet access, commonly known as “net neutrality,” raised big questions for advocacy groups and the public alike yesterday after reports about a Federal Communications Commission shift surfaced Wednesday.

But is everything what it seems? More details:

“Turnaround” or a shift? On Wednesday, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, based on sources close to the FCC, reported that the commission’s plan to replace open-internet rules, which had been struck down by a federal court in January, would include new regulations designed to allow internet providers to offer faster access to certain online services on “commercially reasonable” terms decided by the FCC on a case-by-case basis. Current access levels would remain the same for most services, however. The Times described this move as a “turnaround” in policy in its initial coverage, though the newspaper later softened its language on the issue.

Opposition speaks up: Reaction among advocacy groups to the reported rule change was swift. A top exec at one such group, Public Knowledge Vice President Michael Weinberg, said that with the draft rules, “the FCC is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online,” and that a commercial reasonableness test would allow discrimination against companies, which he said could threaten innovation. But other groups that have traditionally opposed changes to open internet access warned not to rush to judgment. “There’s still a fair amount of unknowns. We don’t know what the details are,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Corynne McSherry told Mashable. “What I worry about is the next Netflix, the service that’s developing in someone’s garage right now that wouldn’t be able to find new audiences because it wouldn’t be able to pay the fee.”

Not what it seems? But with the passionate feedback came pushback. Despite the initial reports suggesting that the rules would mean the end for net neutrality, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler quickly wrote a blog post stating that, while the rules will allow a second tier of access, limits would be in place to ensure that no relevant traffic would be blocked and that internet providers are transparent about each traffic tier. “The allegation that it will result in anti-competitive price increases for consumers is also unfounded,” Wheeler wrote. “That is exactly what the ‘commercially unreasonable’ test will protect against: harm to competition and consumers stemming from abusive market activity.”

The FCC’s moves come as the European Union leaned in a different direction—in favor of full net neutrality—earlier this month.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, shown speaking at the NAB show earlier this month. (photo via FCC's Flickr page)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a senior editor for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. MORE

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