In theory, current U.S. government policy allows for all information on the Internet to be given the same treatment by Internet service providers. But a controversial proposal on “net neutrality” was narrowly approved by the FCC on May 16.
Over recent months, the issue has gotten a lot of attention from consumer advocates and businesses – with much of the divisiveness emerging over a plan to let Internet service providers give content providers priority and improved delivery service – if they pay more.
The new system is being described as “pay-for-priority.” Google and Facebook are among those against pay-for-priority. But under the plan, Verizon, or other providers such as AT&T, could charge a service like Netflix more for a higher level of video streaming.
The plan comes from FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and was supported by him and his fellow Democrats on the commission.
Yet, Wheeler claims he is opposed to an Internet made up of “haves and have-nots.”
"There is one Internet. It must be fast, it must be robust, and it must be open," Wheeler said. "The prospect of a gatekeeper choosing winners and losers on the Internet is unacceptable."
But there are limits to his plan.
“If a network operator slowed the speed of service below that which the consumer bought, it would be commercially unreasonable and therefore prohibited,” Wheeler said. “If the network operator blocked access to lawful content, it would violate our no-blocking rule and therefore be doubly prohibited.”
The issue of what is commercially reasonable is key part of the controversy.
“No one really knows what the commercially reasonable test would look like,” Gabe Rottman, policy advisor at the ACLU, told The Washington Post.
There were many vocal concerns voiced at Thursday’s FCC meeting. Over 100 activists protested the plan, and four protestors were forced to leave the room after shouting, according to Reuters.
From their perspective, many consumer advocates want Internet providers to be treated as utilities, whereupon they would be more regulated.
But others disagree. Such a move would “reverse years of settled precedent, dry up investment in broadband deployment and network upgrades, and result in protracted litigation and marketplace uncertainty,” Michael Powell, president of the National Cable & Telecommunications Association, said in a statement.
There were also concerns that the FCC moved too fast on the net neutrality issue.
"I believe the process that got us to this rulemaking today is flawed. I would have preferred a delay. I think we moved too fast to be fair," FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel said in a statement.
In January, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected the FCC’s prior proposal on net neutrality – which gives the commission another chance. “Unlike many, I actually see this remand as a unique opportunity for us to take a fresh look and evaluate our policy in light of the many developments that have occurred over the last four years,” according to a statement from FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.
Wheeler wants rules on net neutrality in final form before the end of the year. So far, over 100,000 Americans have sent comments to the FCC on the proposal.
To comment on the issue, send the FCC an e-mail via firstname.lastname@example.org.
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