Net Neutrality

With the FCC Considering a Hybrid Approach to Net Neutrality, Will Anyone Be Satisfied?

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As the net neutrality debate continues to rage on between Internet service providers (ISPs) and advocates calling for stricter regulation, it seems Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler is eyeing a compromise. Possibly one that will make no one happy.

First, let's review both sides' positions.

On one hand, there are the net neutrality advocates, who contend that the ISPs should flat-out be reclassified as a common carrier, or utilities, and thus all online traffic should be treated equally. This would bar Internet service providers from creating multiple levels of connection speeds and charging consumers and companies for access to “fast lanes” -- a move critics argue will automatically create “slow lanes," which will make it very difficult for  promising new startups to get up and running.

Related: Net Neutrality Debate Surpasses Janet Jackson's 'Nip Slip' in Number of Comments Sent to the FCC

On the other side of the debate, we have the ISPs like AT&T and Comcast, who argue that a re-classification of broadband providers the Internet under Title II (which was originally written for old phone networks) by the FCC is both out-of-date and without legal merit. Instead, ISPs Internet should remain a lightly regulated retail service, thus giving them the option of charging consumers, websites and content sites for faster Internet speeds.

Currently, the FCC is caught between a rock and a hard place. The public has vehemently rejected its current proposal, which would allow Internet service companies to enact "fast lanes," but if the agency decides to enforce net neutrality and reclassify broadband providers, it faces an avalanche of lawsuits from phone and cable companies.

So here's the hybrid proposal, which The Wall Street Journal reports the commission is seriously considering: Divide broadband into two service categories. In other words, classify broadband connections to consumers as a "retail" service (i.e. lightly regulated) allowing phone and cable companies to charge consumers based on their Internet speed and consumption but classify broadband connections to edge-carriers (the FCC's term for websites and content sites) as "common carrier" (i.e. regulated, thus doing away with the controversial "fast lanes.")

Related: A Glimmer of Compromise on Net Neutrality as FCC Comment Period Ends

The Wall Street Journal wrote:

The proposal will “leave the door open for broadband providers to offer specialized services for, say, videogamers or online video providers, which require a particularly large amount of bandwidth. The proposal would also allow the commission to explore usage-based pricing at some point, in which consumers are charged based on how much data they use and companies are able to subsidize traffic to their websites or applications.”

In other words, as a consumer, if you require fast Internet speeds (be it to watch Netflix, play videogames, download YouTube videos etc.) you'll likely pay a premium to maintain a seamless connection.

As tech blog Recode notes, as with many compromises it will likely leave both sides unsatisfied. Net neutrality advocates argue that the proposal is too complicated to hold up in court and instead, they want the agency to challenge a 2002 decision that deregulated the Internet providers in the first place. Meanwhile, Internet service providers don’t want the FCC holding them to what they feel like are outdated regulations.

Wheeler is expected to officially reveal the FCC's proposal in the upcoming weeks, according to Recode.

Related: A Brief, Unfolding History of Net Neutrality (Infographic)