Net Neutrality Advocates Prepare To Fight Pay-For-Play Proposal

The Federal Communications Commission is trying very hard to convince people that allowing Internet service providers to create fast lanes isn't a betrayal of net neutrality principles. But broadband advocates say the proposal for fast-lane treatment will be disastrous for the open Internet.

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 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.

2 comments about "Net Neutrality Advocates Prepare To Fight Pay-For-Play Proposal".
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  1. Chris Abbott from DetectRight Limited, April 26, 2014 at 4:11 a.m.

    This is the technical equivalent of "Citizens United".

  2. Samuel Hobbs from Dion's, April 29, 2014 at 12:06 p.m.

    If you project the ramifications of a non-neutral internet into the future, it's easy to imagine an internet that behaves very similar to radio, books (before internet) or television: An oligarchy of dominant parent companies will carefully curate and supervise content/information on exclusive premium channels of distribution, which will make up the majority consumption of the medium. Small indie websites and projects that don't fit into the grand publishing/distribution assembly will struggle to provide access to their service. Even if the internet remains "semi-neutral" - in that no ISP will outright block smaller websites unless they pay (which even that isn't a sure thing) - it's still reasonable to expect that the premium channels will eventually outcompete, dominate and squeeze out the independent channels, through government lobbying or free market power (just like how Clear Channel all but killed independent radio).

    In short: The marketer in me is intrigued, the tech geek in me is outraged.

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