New FCC Rules Signal End to Net Neutrality Battle - UPDATE

CYBERSPACE—In the aftermath of January's decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that so-called net neutrality regulations promulgated by the Federal Communications Commission "contradicted a previous FCC decision that put broadband companies beyond its regulatory reach," FFC chairman Tom Wheeler indicated that the agency would need to reconsider its position and propose new rules in accordance with the ruling. Today, the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets reported that those rules are going to be officially unveiled tomorrow, and if approved, they will "allow content companies to pay internet service providers for special access to consumers."

According to The New York Times, "The proposed rules are a complete turnaround for the F.C.C. on the subject of so-called net neutrality, the principle that Internet users should have equal ability to see any content they choose, and that no content providers should be discriminated against in providing their offerings to consumers."

The Journal added, "The FCC's proposal would allow some forms of discrimination while preventing companies from slowing down or blocking specific websites, which likely won't satisfy all proponents of net neutrality... The Commission has also decided for now against reclassifying broadband as a public utility, which would subject ISPs to much greater regulation. However, the Commission has left the reclassification option on the table at present.

"In addition," it continued, "the FCC plans to significantly increase the disclosure requirements for broadband providers, which could include details such as the speed and congestion of their service along the last mile. The proposal wouldn't cover wireless carriers, but it will ask whether mobile broadband providers should be subject to a similar commercially reasonable standard when striking deals with content providers."

Though the proposal will not be released until tomorrow, reporters who have spoken with FCC insiders indicate that the new rules will likely result in, as the Times put it, increased "costs for content companies, which would then have an incentive to pass on those costs to consumers as part of their subscription prices."


FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has issued a statement saying the media reports of a net neutrality "turn-around" by the FCC are untrue.

As reported by The Verge lats last night, Wheeler issued a statement that said, "There are reports that the FCC is gutting the Open Internet rule. They are flat out wrong. Tomorrow we will circulate to the Commission a new Open Internet proposal that will restore the concepts of net neutrality consistent with the court's ruling in January. There is no 'turnaround in policy.' The same rules will apply to all Internet content. As with the original Open Internet rules, and consistent with the court's decision, behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted."

However, adds writer Sean Hollister, "The problem, which Wheeler's statement doesn't refute, is that the FCC intends to say that it's okay to discriminate against traffic if content providers don't pay the ISPs a 'commercially reasonable' fee. While the FCC chairman says that 'behavior that harms consumers or competition will not be permitted,' any fee might risk harming both, even if it's tiny."