The Federal Communications Commission has said it will propose new rules to allow content companies such as Disney, Google or Netflix to pay ISPs like Comcast and Verizon for faster lanes to send video to their subscribers.
The proposed changes effectively end the guarantee on net neutrality — the principle that no providers of legal Internet content should face discrimination in providing offerings to consumers, and that users should have equal access to see any legal content they choose.
The proposal comes three months after a federal appeals court struck down, for the second time, agency rules intended to guarantee neutrality.
Tom Wheeler, the FCC chairman, defended the agency’s plans, saying speculation that the FCC was “gutting the open Internet rule” is wrong. Rather, he said, the new rules will provide for net neutrality along the lines of the appeals court’s decision.
But the regulations will reshape how Internet content is delivered to consumers. If a content company cannot afford the fast track to players, customers could lose interest in its product. The rules are also likely to raise prices as the likes of Disney and Netflix pass on to customers whatever they pay for the speedier access.
Consumer groups attacked the proposal, saying that not only would costs rise, but also that big, rich companies with the money to pay large fees to Internet service providers would be favored over small start-ups with innovative business models — stifling the birth of the next Facebook or Twitter.
But Wheeler insisted: “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.”
Under the proposal, broadband providers will have to disclose how they treat all Internet traffic and on what terms they offer more rapid lanes, and would be required to act “in a commercially reasonable manner,” agency officials said. That standard would be fleshed out as the agency seeks public comment.
The proposed rules will be circulated to the agency’s other four commissioners beginning and will be released for public comment on May 15th. They are likely to be put to a vote by the full commission by the end of the year.