FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has proposed new ‘net neutrality’ rules, the agency’s third attempt at regulating internet service providers as a public utility. The new proposition is a reaction to the attempts of several major internet providers to restrict the sites their customers can visit to limit the use of high broadband sites such as Netflix.
Creating an Internet Fast Lane
Under the new proposition, individual subscribers would be able to view whichever websites they wish. However, websites could pay for extra broadband so that their visitors would have faster access. This would pass along the cost of extra bandwidth to the website rather than the customer, allowing internet users to continuing visiting whichever sites they please. In other words, websites willing to pay would get to use the fast lane.
The proposition came after major internet providers such as Comcast and Time Warner Cable made moves to slow or stop consumer access to sites that use a great deal of bandwidth. The FCC has made it clear that it considers broadband internet a public utility and will not allow these restrictions. This decision came with much public outcry from internet providers. Brian Ditez of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association feels that any FCC interference is an attempt to regulate a modern technology by early twentieth century rules and standards. Further, the regulations would not apply to wireless carriers, a distinction that seems nonsensical consideration that they also are delivering this ‘public utility'.
Will This FCC Proposal Have Political Support?
Many welcome the proposed changes, but there are still a sizable minority that are not happy with the latest plan. Some claim that allowing individual websites to purchase ‘fast lane’ access will discriminate against smaller and start up websites that cannot afford to pay.
Net neutrality has been publicly supported by many politicians, most notably President Barack Obama. However, the concept has fallen short in courts, where the FCC has been unsuccessfully challenged over its last two regulatory attempts of broadband providers. Comcast and other broadband giants seem unlikely to challenge this latest proposal though, as it allows them to charge both internet users and the websites they frequent.
How Will This Affect Consumers?
Most internet users will not even notice the changes initially. However, some may see slower loading on small websites that cannot or will not pay the fees for preferential bandwidth. Eric Klinker of BitTorrent called the move discrimination and feels that it will hurt start up websites and entrepreneurs.
One way that these new FCC rules could positively affect consumers is by funding new broadband infrastructure. These costs, formerly passed on to consumers, would be at least partially covered by higher fees to internet giants such as Google. So far, the major internet websites such as Google, Amazon, and Facebook had not given statements regarding their feelings on this issue. However, Verizon gave a statement that they remain dedicated to net neutrality as a company and do not need new and ‘unnecessary’ rules that complicate their business.
Other Aspects of the New FCC Regulations
While the changes in how bandwidth is delivered have gotten most of the press, the recent FCC proposal also has other clauses. For example, broadband companies will be required to disclose the speed of their service in “the last mile,” which is where most congestion and slowing of broadband service occurs. Mobile and wireless providers may also be subject to this regulation.
These proposed regulations roughly follow the outline set forth by appeals courts, which were clear about the types of interference they would allow in opinions from the last two court battles over net neutrality. The FCC says it plans to continue looking into this manner and come up with a ‘reasonable standard’ for internet service providers to obey.
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