Chairman Tom Wheeler this week circulated a proposal to allow Internet service providers to charge
companies extra to prioritize their traffic. He blogged yesterday that the proposal is part of a package aimed
at reinstating the “concepts” of neutrality rules that were passed in 2010 but invalidated by a court earlier this year.
But there's a very significant difference between the 2010 rules and Wheeler's proposal: The old rules -- unlike the package put forward yesterday -- prohibited wireline providers from unreasonably discriminating against content or apps.
Advocacy groups have wasted no time rallying opposition to the pay-for-play proposal. The Electronic Frontier Foundation, for one, is telling people “it’s extremely important that we let the FCC know that rules that let ISPs pick and choose how certain companies reach consumers will not be tolerated.”
And a new Whitehouse.gov petition stating: “We as a nation must settle for nothing less than
complete neutrality in our communication channels,” garnered more than 16,000 signatures in one day.
If the FCC passes the Wheeler's regulations, broadband companies will be able to charge companies like Netflix more to ensure faster delivery of their video streams. That speedy delivery will almost certainly be at the expense of other companies that don't pay for that type of service.
The new proposal also could result in ISPs deciding to prioritize their own content at the expense of competitors -- like Aereo or Hulu. A regulation allowing discrimination could also empower ISPs to charge companies a fee to exclude their content from consumers' bandwidth caps, writes Stanford law professor Barbara van Schewick.
She adds that the proposal could harm smaller companies, startups, and even nonprofits that want to get out their message online. “Access fees would create two classes of speakers -- those who can pay to receive better treatment (e.g., large, established companies or wealthy individuals) and those who cannot afford to do so -- often individuals and groups with unpopular or new viewpoints, like activists and artists,” she writes.
The FCC is expected to vote on May 15 about whether to consider Wheeler's proposed rules.