FCC Votes to Move Forward on New, Weaker Net Neutrality Rules
The Federal Communications Commission approved Chairman Tom Wheeler’s proposal for new Internet service provider regulations, which will move the process forward to allow public comment on the new rules.
In a 3-2 vote today, the commission voted to take the next step with Wheeler’s proposal for governing how telecommunications companies can provide Internet content to users, a draft of which was leaked in April and caused a serious stir among people who use the Internet and prefer it not to suck. That doesn’t mean new rules are in place, though; rather, the commission has voted to move the process to its next step, which will allow public comment on the proposal that can help hammer them into their final shape.
The major issue, though, is that the leaked proposal included a provision that would allow ISPs to let some companies pay for better access to Internet subscribers. The idea of net neutrality holds that all content on the Internet should be treated equally, but ISPs have long wanted to have the ability to charge some content providers more money in exchange for access to things like faster download speeds for their subscribers.
It’s potentially hugely damaging, however, creating a “slow” Internet and a “fast” one that’s only accessible to content providers who can pay. Allowing ISPs to charge providers more money to get their content to the people who want it will raise costs for consumers, could have chilling effects on free speech, and benefits no one but ISPs, who get to make more money without actually doing anything.
The proposal as it stands now stops ISPs from blocking content of any kind, and websites all would have to be treated equally under the regulations — that is, IGN would not be able to pay to provide faster access to its site than GameSpot, for example. The rules establish a “minimum level of access,” which ISPs have to provide to all content, and then would potentially allow better service to be sold, though any speed increases or traffic discrimination has to be “commercially reasonable.”
The FCC’s previous rules, which were struck down by an appeals court in January, prohibited ISPs from discriminating Internet traffic.
As The Verge reported, the proposed new rules have gone through some revisions since they were reported on last week. “Liberal commissioner “Jessica Rosenworcel said that Wheeler made ‘significant adjustments’ to the proposal over the past weeks, and it’s quelled some criticism,” The Verge’s report states.
Reports also state Wheeler is looking for public comment on language and issues within the proposals, including what the explanation of the potentially nuanced and nebulous “commercially reasonable” requirement should be.
Wheeler, who served as a lobbyist and lawyer in Washington D.C. for tech and telecom companies for decades, also reiterated that he’s not trying to gut net neutrality.
“I will not allow the national asset of an open Internet to be compromised,” Wheeler said during a meeting from which several protesters calling for strong protections of broadband Internet service were removed, according to a report from Variety.
In all, the news here is a bit mixed. It sounds as though the proposed rules going forward with the FCC are at least partially as worrisome in the same way they were back in April — those rules are bad for the Internet, bad for games and bad for everyone (except ISPs). The fact that the rules have been primed a bit more in favor of an open Internet, according to reports, as well as Wheeler’s continued insistence that he doesn’t mean to nuke the ‘net suggest a more positive situation than what was initially expected, but we still will have to wait and see what’s actually in the rules first.
Now that the FCC has approved Wheeler’s proposal, it’ll be available for 60 days for public comment (I expect we’ll be able to see the rules and leave those comments at fcc.gov). The 60 days after that will be for FCC responses to comments.
It’s not the end of the Internet as we know it just yet, but things are still looking grim for net neutrality.