FCC Chairman to Revise Proposal for New Broadband Rules After Backlash
The Federal Communications Commission is reportedly revising its proposal for new broadband regulations and has made assurances that it will not let service providers split service into fast and slow tiers.
The revised proposal by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, which could be made public today, is in response to heaping criticism over alleged plans that would allow internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and AT&T to charge content distributors like Netflix and YouTube (along with smaller startups) a premium to insure their content streams reliably into customers’ homes. Critics say such an approach would inherently disadvantage smaller companies without such deep pockets, effectively creating two separate and unequal internets. And large companies like Netflix, believes these ISPs are already double dipping --charging both websites and customers access to the other party.
Related: Net Neutrality, Explained
"It is charging Netflix for access to its subscribers. Comcast also charges its subscribers for access to Internet content providers like Netflix," the company's vice president of content delivery, Ken Florance, wrote back in April. "In this way, Comcast is double dipping by getting both its subscribers and Internet content providers to pay for access to each other." And down the road, this added expense could be passed to consumers.
Plus huge corporations don't want to compete against each other for bandwidth, which would result in extreme price hikes on ISP service.
Although the new language will reportedly use a similar approach, an agency official said the FCC will evaluate deals to insure that they don’t put nonpaying companies content at a disadvantage, The Wall Street Journal reports. The proposal will reportedly also ask for public comment over classifying broadband internet as a public utility rather than an information service provider, a move that would be subject to more regulation by the FCC. ISPs vehemently oppose such a change as they argue it would stomp out innovation, but proponents say it’s the fastest way to insure net neutrality’s permanence.
An attempt at reclassification would almost certainly result in a court battle, leaving the current rules in place until the issue is settled.
Proponents of net neutrality are concerned that once Wheeler leaves office the anemic rules may no longer be enforced in a meaningful way. In response one proposal is to include a provision that requires broadband companies to allow all users access to “fast and robust service.”
"I won't allow some companies to force internet users into a slow lane so that others with special privileges can have superior service," Wheeler said in a letter to tech companies.
The alleged proposal drew the ire of almost every major tech company in the United States. In an open letter Amazon, Dropbox, Ebay, Facebook, Google, Netflix, Reddit and more than 100 others voiced their forceful opposition to the alleged rule change.
“The Commission intends to propose rules that would enable phone and cable Internet service providers to discriminate both technically and financially against Internet companies and to impose new tolls on them,” the companies wrote in a letter. “This represents a grave threat to the Internet.
In light of the backlash commissioners Jessica Roenworcel, a Democrat, and Republican Ajit Pai called for the vote, scheduled for Thursday, to be delayed in order to hold a public comment period but at this time that seems unlikely.
Both Republicans on the five-member commission oppose any and all net neutrality rules, deeming them unnecessary.
Benjamin Kabin is a Brooklyn-based technology journalist who specializes in security, startups, venture capital and social media.