New FCC 'Net Neutrality' Proposal Could Make Some Traffic Less Neutral Than Others

The Wall Street Journal reports the FCC will propose new rules on Thursday that will "allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment." 

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Update April 24, 1:31 p.m. FCC chairman Tom Wheeler released a statement Thursday clarifying how the new rules will work after a number of reports allegedly mis-stated how much the new rules harken the end times of net neutrality. In short, Wheeler wants everyone to chill. These are the new regulations proposed by the FCC as plainly explained by FCC chairman Tom Wheeler:

  1. That all ISPs must transparently disclose to their subscribers and users all relevant information as to the policies that govern their network;
  2. That no legal content may be blocked; and
  3. That ISPs may not act in a commercially unreasonable manner to harm the Internet, including favoring the traffic from an affiliated entity.

Glad that is settled.

Original: The Wall Street Journal reports the FCC will propose new rules on Thursday that will "allow broadband providers to give some traffic preferential treatment." Reuters reports the FCC will vote on the new rules on May 15. 

Now, things are not as bad as they sound. (Or not as bad as they could be, anyway.) Any deals between content companies and ISPs will require FCC approval, and ISPs can't block or discriminate traffic in any way. So strictly speaking, content companies can pay for a bump, or a shortcut, that delivers their content at faster speeds, but ISPs cannot slow down competitors. This is an important point, though some net neutrality activists might argue that there's really no distinction there. He who pays the most, gets the best treatment.

The WSJ explains how the proposed new neutrality rules will work: 

Companies such as Skype or Netflix that offer phone or video services that rely on broadband connections could take advantage of such arrangements by paying the broadband providers to ensure that their traffic reaches consumers without disruption. Those companies would be paying for preferential treatment on the "last mile" of broadband networks that connects directly to consumers' homes. The proposal does not address the separate issue of back-end interconnection or peering between content providers and broadband networks.

So this isn't exactly the nightmare scenario Internet cowboys have feared, but it's certainly a step away from the "open and free" Internet your nerdier friends ready to take up arms to protect. A federal court ruling in January struck down the FCC's existing net neutrality laws for being shabbily constructed, prompting this newest reform. ISPs like Verizon have fought for the right to package and sell Internet traffic to the highest bidder, but so far the greater public and the FCC both vehemently oppose that scheme. This is a slight compromise for both sides. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.