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.

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Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects.