FCC Net Neutrality Proposal Might Allow 'Fast Lanes'

The new proposal just passed today (May 15) would prohibit Internet service providers from blocking traffic outright or slowing it to a crawl, but it's vague about the creation of "fast lanes" privileging certain types of content for companies willing to pay for it. This proposal isn't final; United States citizens will have 120 days to comment on the decision, and the FCC will take a final vote in July 15. In fact, the FCC hasn't even released the full text of the proposal, just a summary.

At stake is the question of whether Internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T should be able to privilege certain types of Internet content (such as Netflix or Facebook) with higher speeds, or whether the US government should step in and ensure that all Internet content gets equal access to an Internet provider's network.

MORE: What is Net Neutrality?

The proposal “tentatively concludes that priority service offered exclusively by a broadband provider to an affiliate should be considered illegal until proven otherwise,” according to the FCC’s own statement.

However, some experts say this is not enough to ensure net neutrality, as it does not explicitly forbid ISPs from letting content providers pay for "fast lanes," or the privilege of their content appearing faster than other types of content on customers' devices.

The FCC's proposal does, however, include a no-blocking rule, which would prohibit ISPs from blocking any kind of legal Internet content outright.

The proposal also seeks to increase transparency by requiring ISPs to give “timely notice” of any new practices, and to disclose “information on the nature of congestion that impacts consumers’ use of online services.” Wheeler referred to it as the "rat-out rule," as it would inform citizens of practices that hurt their service.

Citizens would then be able to take their concerns to a newly created ombudsperson, a role also created in the proposal, who would “act as a watchdog on behalf of consumers and start-ups and small businesses.” Nothing that the FCC has released or that Wheeler or commissioners said in the meeting indicates what legal authority the ombudsperson would have.

Additionally, the FCC’s proposal seeks to establish an "enforceable legal standard of commercially reasonable practices" to ensure an open Internet. The proposal does not elaborate on what "commercially unreasonable" means, but FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler gave some examples during the meeting, including an ISP slowing access to its network.

Before the vote, Wheeler voiced strong opposition to Internet “fast lanes.” "There is one Internet," Wheeler said. "Not a fast Internet, not a slow Internet. One Internet."

"Nothing in this proposal authorizes paid prioritization," he added. "The potential for there to be some kind of fast lane has many people concerned...I will work to see that does not happen."

The proposal does not call for reclassifying ISPs as "common carriers," a group that the FCC is allowed to regulate under Title II of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Wheeler said the FCC is open to this suggestion, however.

The FCC's three democratic commissioners, Jessica Rosenworcel, Mignon Clyburn and Tom Wheeler, voted for the proposal.The two Republican commissioners, Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly, dissented.

Email jscharr@techmedianetwork.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

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  • atavax
    where are they looking at comments for it?

    there needs to be common carriers now. Any policies are meaningless without it. There has been stagnation in the US with internet. The only progress is in how ISPs can take more money from the consumer.

    no fast lanes. How can we progress if speed limits are based on what is commonly used today? For example, how are we going to transition from streaming 1080p to 4k resolutions if commercially 1080p would be the norm; and anyone that tries to stream 4k will be punished.
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  • neon neophyte
    this is what happens when a cable company lobbyist is appointed as head chairman of the fcc. no conflict of interest there! /s
    8
  • Osmin
    It is so easy nowadays to buy a Republican and a little harder to buy a Democrat to out-right reject the proposals. If you don't pay enough, Democrats will just reword the legislation so it has no bite or effect. They will just promise that everything will be alright.
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