New FCC proposal could be the end of net neutrality, opponents say

McClatchy Washington BureauApril 24, 2014 

The Federal Communications Commission plans to propose new rules today that would let Internet service providers charge companies to move their content through a speedier lane, a “pay for play” model that opponents say will kill net neutrality.

News of the proposed rules provoked an immediate outcry yesterday from Internet advocates who protested that these rewritten Open Internet or “net neutrality” rules, intended to treat all web content equally, are anything but neutral.

Large, rich companies like Google, Netflix and Skype willing to pay extra for a faster pipe would be able to ensure more rapid, smooth streaming for their users. This would give them an unfair advantage over smaller companies, discriminate against other content, and stifle innovation that could lead to the next Twitter or YouTube, digital consumer and public interest groups claim.

“The F.C.C. is inviting ISPs to pick winners and losers online,” said Michael Weinberg, vice president of policy group Public Knowledge, in a statement echoing concerns of consumer advocates.

"With this proposal, the F.C.C. is aiding and abetting the largest ISPs in their efforts to destroy the open Internet,” Craig Aaron, President of the advocacy group Free Press, said in another statement yesterday.

These pay-for-priority schemes would be a “disaster for startups, nonprofits and everyday Internet users who cannot afford these unnecessary tolls,” he said.

"This is not Net Neutrality. It's an insult to those who care about preserving the open Internet to pretend otherwise.”

In January a federal appeals court struck down the Open Internet rules the F.C.C. adopted in 2010, which prevented Internet providers from blocking certain sites or discriminating against any online traffic.

The updated version of the rules would keep the ban on blocking traffic, with one major change to the discrimination clause. Internet providers like Verizon, Comcast and AT&T will be allowed to offer varying speeds for a price, as long as it's "commercially reasonable", a source familiar with the proposal told the Wall Street Journal, which first reported news of the new draft yesterday.

Just a few hours after the media leaked the changes in the new rules, the commission’s chairman Tom Wheeler responded to the outrage from the advocate groups and the public.

“There are reports that the F.C.C. is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat out wrong,” he said in a statement, adding that “behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted.”

“There is no ‘turnaround in policy’,” he said. “The same rules will apply to all Internet content.”

The F.C.C. will vote on a final proposal on May 15.

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