How The New Internet Rules Could Undermine Net Neutrality

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The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) will release proposed draft rules on Thursday that will “allow content companies to pay Internet service providers for special access to consumers,” the Wall Street Journal reports, potentially undermining the principle of net neutrality on the Internet.

Under the new rules, broadband providers (ISPs) like Verizon or Comcast would be able to charge companies like Netflix or Amazon separate fees to deliver video or other services in a special faster lane on the “last mile” of broadband “that connects directly to consumers’ homes.” Content companies may then pass on those additional costs to consumers. ISPs would be prohibited from blocking or discriminating against specific websites and would be required to spell out “commercially reasonable” terms that would be available to all interested content providers. The FCC would review each deal on a “case by case basis,” the Journal notes.

The new guidelines — which the New York Times describes as “a complete turnaround” for the commission — come after a federal court decision in January that struck down a rule that required broadband providers to treat all Internet traffic the same regardless of the source.

Net neutrality advocates quickly derided the proposed regulations. “Giving ISPs the green light to implement pay-for-priority schemes will be a disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls,” Free Press President and CEO Craig Aaron said in a statement. “These users will all be pushed onto the Internet dirt road, while deep pocketed Internet companies enjoy the benefits of the newly created fast lanes.” Aaron also suggested that such an arrangement could encourage ISPs to “create congestion through artificial scarcity” in order to encourage more content providers to pay for preferential treatment.

In its January decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit conceded that “broadband providers represent a threat to Internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.” The Court and a former FCC commissioner suggested that the FCC could reclassify ISPs and maintain full neutrality. Republicans, however, have characterized net neutrality as “federal control of the Internet,” arguing that the government “will restrict our online freedom and leave Americans facing the same horrors that they have experienced with HealthCare.gov.”

Should the five-member FCC approve the draft rules on May 15, the Commission will accept public comments and issue final regulations “by the end of summer.”