FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler’s new net neutrality proposal would allow preferential treatment for some Internet traffic.
The Wall Street Journal has reported recent developments in the U.S. Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) position on the subject of net neutrality, the notion that all traffic on the Internet should be treated equally.
According to the Journal article (“FCC to Propose New 'Net Neutrality' Rules”), Wheeler has developed a new plan ostensibly designed to prevent large Internet broadband providers such as Comcast, Verizon Communications, and Time Warner Cable from selectively slowing or blocking consumer access to some web content.
But, rather than championing net neutrality, the proposal appears to be aimed at locating a middle ground between the interests of consumers and those of broadband companies by allowing the latter “to give preferential treatment to traffic from some content providers.” Such treatment is to be based on “commercially reasonable” terms between the involved companies, the specifics of which will be decided upon by FCC regulators, who will review each individual agreement.
Examining the potential effects of the new proposal, the Journal article suggests that consumers will initially notice no changes to their Internet experience. However, over the long term they are likely to be presented with new broadband products and connection options – along with additional costs for these products and services.
The Journal goes on to add that the real winners, if Wheeler’s proposal takes effect, will most likely be well-established broadband companies such as Comcast and Verizon, who can charge both consumers and content providers extra fees for network access.
A spokesman for Verizon offered an optimistic response to the proposal, suggesting that it would lead to greater investment in cable broadband networks and ultimately benefit consumers. The spokesman added that the company continues to be "publicly committed to ensuring that customers can access the Internet content they want, when they want and how they want."
Meanwhile, established content providers – companies such as Netflix and Google that offer broadband-based video and voice services – would likely pay to ensure their services received preferential treatment, particularly when connecting to the homes and business of their most-valued end-users – consumers.
Smaller content providers and broadband start-ups, however, could suffer if they are unable to afford to pay for preferential treatment, meaning that they could not guarantee first-rate service in terms of streaming and download speeds.
Reflecting a generally skeptical response to the proposal among some smaller Silicon Valley firms, BitTorrent Inc. CEO Eric Klinker told the Wall Street Journal that,
For technologists and entrepreneurs alike this is a worst-case scenario.... Creating a fast lane for those that can afford it is by its very definition discrimination.
At least one national lawmaker was strongly inclined to agree with this position.
As reported by cnet.com, Wheeler’s proposal has elicited the ire of Minnesota senator Al Franken, who has called the FCC plan to allow preferential treatment to paying content providers “misguided.”
In his letter to the FCC chairman, Franken described the proposal as “an affront to net neutrality” and an assault on the concept of the free and open Internet. He claimed that the new FCC position “would grant Verizon, Comcast, and the other ISPs the power to pick winners and losers on the Internet, which violates core net neutrality principles.”
Chairman Wheeler, meanwhile, has rejected the notion that his proposal contradicts the FCC’s Open Internet Order, designed to protect transparency on the web and to prohibit unreasonable discrimination among the myriad content that passes upon it.
Following an internal review of the new policy at the FCC, Wheeler is scheduled to appear before Congress on May 20th in order to defend his proposal to members of the House Commerce Subcommittee on Communications.
This article is a follow-up to an earlier Pippenger Hedberg Law post on this subject, titled Is This the End of Net Neutrality?